As a full time college student, I have been struggling to find time to participate in volunteer events. It’s one thing if you’re an incoming freshmen and get the full university rundown; it’s an entirely different thing to be an incoming transfer student. We’re like the red-headed step children of college students, only getting the bare minimum of information that is available to us.
The result: we don’t learn about awesome individual student programs or groups dedicated to community involvement and volunteerism. So, we miss out completely on tons of opportunities.
Luckily, last year I learned about the SLiCE (Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement) office when they were hiring a special volunteer events coordinator. What a great opportunity – volunteer events and work combined! Long story short, now I work at SLiCE and get paid to coordinate volunteer events.
The Cans Around the Oval drive was developed as a student initiative back in 1986. The original goal was to line our campus Oval with cans as a way to promote food bank donations. The first year it took place, students lined the Oval all the way around (with cans spaced five feet apart)! 🙂
Since that time, the event has grown significantly to become Northern Colorado’s largest single-day food drive with more than 50,000 pounds of food and $39,000 in monetary donations collected this year.
Jen Johnson has been the assistant director of volunteer programs at SLiCE for nearly 10 years and has seen the growth and development of Cans throughout those years.
“Over the years the event has grown hugely and the focus has changed,” Johnson said during an interview. “One of our biggest years in terms of cans donations was 135,000 pounds of food; since that time, our focus has really changed to cash donations since the food bank can make more use of them.”
Jenn Rieskamp, who is new to the SLiCE office this year as the special events coordinator, showed no doubts about reaching this year’s collection goals, despite all of the flooding the county has seen.
“We have a unique opportunity this year with all of the flooding that happened,” Rieskamp said during an interview earlier in the week. “Folks have been asking, ‘is that going to minimize the amount of donations or is it going to maximize them’ … I have a feeling from where we are that we are going to see a big increase.”
Although the event itself has become a tradition in the community, the underlying message cannot be understated. The goal of SLiCE and the Food Bank is to raise awareness of the issues surrounding hunger.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, one in six Americans struggled with hunger and more than 48.9 million Americans lived in households fighting hunger in 2012. Of those households, children make up 15.8 million. What’s more, the overall rate of food insecurity has remained more or less unchanged since 2008.
Rebecca Robinson, a student volunteer at the event, kept that thought in mind as she worked to help collect donations at the Oval.
“Cans is one of those events that has such a huge impact on the community, it’s impossible not to want to help out,” Robinson said. “I think people have really come through this year and the underlying message has really gotten through to everyone and they all just want to help with hunger relief.”
During Collection Day, more than 200 volunteers and SLiCE staff coordinate with Food Bank employees to collect donations at the CSU Oval. All donations are dropped off, weighed, packaged and lined up around the oval between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., then transported to the Food Bank where they are distributed to Larimer County households.
So, on that note I encourage you all to get involved in your community events! Every place has something great to offer for volunteers and the reward is the satisfaction that you get from knowing you made an impact in your community.