About 120 members of the campus community are honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in Engage Lincoln service projects Jan. 23-27 across Lincoln.
The week of service is centered on food insecurity, the theme chosen by the MLK volunteer committee. Each nonprofit selected as a service project site provides hunger relief in Lincoln and Lancaster County.
Volunteers spent time assembling Meals on Wheels at Tabitha, packaging oatmeal servings for the United Way, sorting and distributing food at the Food Bank of Lincoln and completing a variety of tasks at both the Center for People in Need and Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach.
Volunteers fanned out at Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, tackling several projects. They organized a large storage area full of food, sorted milk and other perishables in the walk-in cooler, logged and distributed food donations and prepped two rooms to be painted.
Matt Talbot, which provides a variety of services to Lincoln’s low-income and homeless populations, including hot meals every day, relies heavily on volunteers to run its food programs. Victoria O’Neil, director of hunger relief and volunteerism at Matt Talbot, said utilization of the twice-daily meals has increased by 35% over the past year. The center serves, on average, 150 people during each meal time. As the coordinator for the Matt Talbot projects, O’Neil said she found projects that she hoped were enjoyable and would allow the volunteers to interact with some of the clients.
“I think it’s really important for young people to be involved with volunteerism, especially with this population, and Matt Talbot has a great relationship with the university,” she said, adding that the rooms being prepped for painting would be finished over the weekend by members of the Husker football team.
Bree Bell, a first-year marketing major from Omaha, spent two hours at Matt Talbot. As the daughter of a social worker, Bell is well aware of the importance of community centers like Matt Talbot, which spurred her to volunteer.
“I want to make it a regular thing — giving back and helping others,” Bell said. “In high school, I did a Thanksgiving food drive and worked with kids, so this is a new environment to be volunteering in, but I’m enjoying it.”
Andrew Brown, assistant director of community engagement, said the largest service project was the packaging of oatmeal in the Nebraska Union. More than 75 faculty, staff and students assembled 2,350 servings from 250 pounds of oatmeal.
One of the United Way volunteers, Mona Miller, also served at Tabitha earlier in the week. As a sophomore member of Kappa Delta Chi, Miller said she found her passion for volunteerism and was excited to participate in the Engage Lincoln projects, on top of her regular volunteer hours at the university’s LGBTQA+ Center.
“Through volunteering with my sorority for the Foster Care Closet, I found I really love volunteering,” Miller said. “I grew up in a low-income area of Omaha, so it feels really good to be in a place in my life where I can give back.”
The Omaha native is majoring in child, youth and family studies and communication studies with the goal of attending law school, practicing family law and eventually starting a family-focused nonprofit. Her volunteerism at the Foster Care Closet led to an internship, which she is completing this semester.
Brown said students at Nebraska are always engaged in community service and that any student looking for an opportunity to do a service project can use Handshake to match with a nonprofit. More information can be found here.