For Benedictine University student Shahista Rahman of Joliet, helping those who suffer from food insecurity is one of the best ways to serve others.
“I wanted to help today, and my heart is really in it. I want to help people,” the freshman said while standing in the lobby of the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry Monday morning. “I knew if I was starving, I’d want someone to help me, and I came out here to do this. I have empathy for people.”
Individuals and groups around the country honored Martin Luther King Day with a day of service Monday including students from Metea Valley High School in Aurora and Benedictine University in Lisle who did volunteer work at the Aurora pantry.
From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., students jumped in stocking shelves, moving products and helping out with the pantry’s regular distribution that took place.
Community Impact Manager Becky Dunnigan said the pantry has worked with groups before “who have come in, helped with distribution, stocking the shelves and making snack bags.”
“Students will be positioned all throughout the pantry doing all sorts of stuff because we have distribution today,” Dunnigan said Monday, adding that having youngsters was a welcome addition.
Marco Masini, dean of students at Benedictine University, said students also came to help at the pantry in August.
“We do an outreach for all our freshmen students,” he said.
He said volunteering on Martin Luther King Day was a proper thing to do.
“For other people having a day off, this is a day on, and looking at service by our students,” he said. “We just open this up and kids select what they want to do. We acknowledge the importance of this because we have a food pantry on our campus also – so doing it, whether here or Naperville or wherever – it’s connected to our university. We brought some of our donations also.”
Officials said it was good to teach kids about the importance of volunteerism at an early age as well as do something that reflects King’s vision, something that Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry Executive Director Shannon Cameron believes is reflected in the pantry’s work year-round.
“I think we should be working to follow Dr. King’s teachings more than one day a year. A call to service is important every day of the year and community takes care of community,” she said. “I think that’s something that the food pantry really exemplifies, that we are neighbors helping neighbors. I believe that service is not just altruistic, it’s personal growth and helps you understand your community better and helps you understand other people’s stories and empathize and fully understand the impact of hunger on your community when you come to a place like this.”
Dunnigan echoed Cameron’s thoughts and said Monday’s effort underscored the importance of volunteerism.
“It’s never too soon to open up the door to kids to show them that volunteering – it goes on so these programs can happen,” Dunnigan said. “We have 30 or 40 volunteers a day just to make distribution happen to 150 to 200 families, otherwise they would not get food.”
She said that student volunteers, in general, are quick studies when it comes to getting them started.
“Once we give them even a minimalist description of what needs to be done, we find that they jump on it and take control and handle whatever it is we give them to do,” Dunnigan said. “They move fast. They have a lot of strength, and it works out well bringing in these new groups and opens them up to what has to happen for this food to go out to families.”
Students said they welcomed the opportunity to serve as part of the observance of Martin Luther King Day and couldn’t imagine a more impactful place than the food pantry.
Josh Robinson, a social studies teacher at Metea, said he brought six students from the school’s Captain’s Council group, a collection of student athletes who meet every Friday “to develop leadership traits as well as give back within the school and develop that leadership capacity.”
“Dr. King Day is a service day, and they are excited to come out and do something today. A lot of our student body is home sleeping, and these students are out here giving back to their community,” he said. “These kids are excited to do something outside of their normal neck of the woods.”
Maya Hall, 16, of Aurora, was one of the Metea students volunteering Monday and said “Metea is very active in the community, and we like to go and help out.”
“That’s kind of what this day means to us. It’s good to get out and help the community,” Maya said. “I feel good about it and wish I could do more. I’m a junior in high school and an athlete but it’s good to come out here and help out when I can.”
Jan 16, 2023, at 1:11 pm
Marco Masini, dean of students at Benedictine University in Lisle, left, talks with a group of students from the university who came to the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry Monday for a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Day. (David Sharos / The Beacon-News)