Volunteers turn to Day of Service to honor MLK, help community

File. Caroline Neely, left, Sarah Fergus, back, and Maria Galic walk up and down McKinley Drive collecting canned items for the MLK "Can"vas Food Drive Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.

A new focus has emerged for celebrations associated with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at Bowling Green State University.

With the majority of students not on campus, due to the new winter session, the event is connecting with the Brown Bag Food Project.

“The MLK Jr. Day of Service is a significant event on our campus,” said Paul Valdez, BGSU Center for Community and Civic Engagement. “We teamed up with the Brown Bag Food Project because we wanted to give the opportunity to perform service, but we needed a way to make that happen.”

Valdez also said that BGSU Athletics has expanded its role with a day of events that involve students, teachers and athletic directors from the Northwest Ohio high schools.

“This year we wanted to try to take the lead, because we have quite a few students on campus for winter sports. We thought about enhancing our volunteer efforts to be a bit more intentional and impactful to the community,” said Chet Hesson, assistant director for BGSU Academics and Student Services.

The service project will be in conjunction with the Wood County Committee on Aging’s Home Delivered Meal Bag project, where 60 athletes and 40 students will be helping with the first leg of the packing effort.

“We have run a volunteer event on this day for many years; this is my fifth year running the event. The event from the university perspective has changed significantly because of the lack of volunteers available from the student population, because of the winter session,” Hesson said.

In addition to working on the service project, the high school students will be taking an Inclusivity Leadership Workshop, watching sports practices and connecting with the athletes during lunch. Topics will include diversity and inclusion. Teams taking part include men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and gymnastics.

BGSU has a new academic calendar that includes a new three-week winter session in January. Enrollment for the short semester is at approximately 1,000. It isn’t mandatory for full-time students and many of those are taking online courses, completing internships or studying abroad.

The BGSU MLK Jr. Day of Service started in 2008 with less than 50 students, faculty and staff involved. It grew to more than 800 at its peak last year. The hope is to have 150 volunteers participating over the weekend, but there were only 110 signed up, as of Wednesday.

This 11th Annual MLK Jr. Day of Service is being called a “Can”vas Food Drive. Volunteers will go door-to-door Saturday and Sunday to collect food donations from local residents. They will also be assisting with sorting and loading the collected donations.

Amy Holland, with the Brown Bag Food Project, said that the university involvement is appreciated.

“In years past, we’ve had some students involved, but this year BGSU has made it their focus, instead of their own service projects. For us, the additional students will be a good thing, because that will be a lot for us,” she said. “This is one of our biggest events of the year.”

This is the first year they have officially teamed up with BGSU for the MLK Jr. Day of Service.

Brown Bag Food Project’s event started in 2008 by a group of community members, when President Barack Obama declared the holiday a day of service.

There will also be shifts available at Grounds For Thought, 174 S. Main St., on Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Sunday from noon-4 p.m. Calls can also be made to 419-960-5345 for pickup.

Some questions have popped up in regards to the weekend’s weather.

“With the storm coming, our plan is the service project will still happen, unless it gets to a Level 2 Snow Emergency,” Holland said.