AKRON, Ohio — Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors the life of a man who fought for racial justice and equality. It's also a National Day of Service, or as many call it, "a day on, not a day off."
At the University of Akron on Monday, dozens of volunteers joined forces to help students facing struggles to afford food.
ServeOhio, the governor-appointed commission on service and volunteerism, awarded grants to support 21 MLK Day of Service projects throughout Ohio. The grants funded projects in 16 cities led more than 1,000 volunteers.
About 50 UA students gathered at 11 a.m. inside the Jean Hower Taber Student Union to pack food and hygiene items purchased through a $1,000 grant.
The students formed assembly lines and created meal kits with several items, including noodles, fruit, cereal and drinks.
Some in the group also worked on fleece-tied blankets, which will be given to students dealing with financial struggles and needing bedding items.
"I'm part of the Elevate Service Club and we got a message that we would like to volunteer so I came down, helped out a bit," said Thomas Dalchuk, a freshman.
The teamwork paid off quickly. About 160 of the kits were assembled in 10 minutes. Organizers originally planned two hours for the project.
"We were able to purchase the food to create three different bundles for our students, and then using the volunteers, we created assembly lines. The students went down the line and bundled all those kits together," said Ali Doehring, director of ZipAssist.
Doehring said food insecurity among students has become a pressing concern in recent years.
Last semester, the pantry known as Campus Cupboard, helped more than 1,000 students.
'That's the most students we've ever seen, so the need is very great," Doehring said.
According to Doehring, inflation, along with students struggling to balance work and college classes, are contributing to food insecurity.
"During the pandemic, we saw a 260% increase in the number of students who were coming to us. It's continued to increase from there. We're continuing to see more students every semester," she said.
Cheyenne, a junior who volunteered for the project, said it felt good to help out.
"I just like giving to the community in need, especially helping people in need. I come from a culture where we always like to give to people," she said.
Many of the meal kits were packaged and placed into seven grab-and-go locations around campus. Other packages were delivered to Campus Cupboard.
While the time spend volunteering was short, the students who took part in the project believe there will be a lasting impact.
"Having people that need help and then getting that— like food and meals— definitely improves campus, improves the city," Dalchuk said.
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