Scarlet Day of Service sees rise in participants
“First come, first to serve” was the tagline on Saturday as hundreds of students lined up outside the College Avenue Student Center to dedicate their time as volunteers for the Scarlet Day of Service. As in previous years, the theme of the event was “Give Where You Live.”
Kerri Willson, director of Student Involvement at Rutgers Student Life, said the motto is important because college students easily get “stuck in this bubble” of what’s going on within the University.
Rutgers is lucky to be connected with the New Brunswick community,” she said. “We need to show we’re here, and we care.”
As the University-hosted the eighth annual Scarlet Day of Service, coordinated by the Student Volunteer Council, Rutgers Residence Life, the Rutgers University Programming Association and Rutgers University Student Life, a new process was implemented due to the overwhelming response.
Of the record-breaking 1,000 registrants — up from 700 last year — only the first 500 were admitted to support 20 local nonprofits, Wilson said.
Krista Kohlmann, program coordinator of Student Life, said there has been a large increase in the number of students interested in community service in recent years.
“I think that has to do with students becoming more globally and civically aware of their surroundings,” she said.
In preparation for the events, coordinators reached out to different nonprofit community partners within New Brunswick, Piscataway, North Brunswick and South Brunswick to participate in the last two weeks of August, Wilson said.
On the day of the event, students filed into the student center to be checked in as volunteers.
After checking in, volunteers chose from a pool of nonprofit projects, including Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen, Enable, Inc. and PSE&G Children’s Center, among others.
Six buses then transported volunteers to sites such as the Second Reformed Church, Camp Kiddie Keep Well Camp and Johnson Park. Activities ranged from cleaning libraries and visiting the elderly, to gardening and house painting.
Students visited Elijah’s Promise to prepare meals, clean the dining room and serve food. During the day, volunteers distributed 250 to 270 meals, said Jim Zullo, executive director of Elijah’s Promise.
Zullo said volunteers, including Scarlet Day of Service volunteers, allow the organization to provide low-cost meals. They also help build a network of people who support Elijah’s Promise’s mission.
“Without volunteer efforts, we would not exist,” he said.
In exchange, Rutgers alumni have told Zullo their volunteer work at Elijah’s Promise shaped their community values.
Two volunteer groups that remained on the College Avenue campus were Meals of Hope, a meal packaging service, and New Brunswick Clean Up, a trash pick-up project.
Jared Strauss, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said providing amenities for survival is the highest priority because he considers it important to give back to the community serving him.
Meals of Hope had a goal of packaging 30,000 meals during the day, 10,000 more meals than last year’s target. By the end of the day, volunteers had successfully packaged 30,144 meals.
Laura Sodano, hunger action coordinator at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, said student involvement is needed now more than ever. Ninety percent of New Jersey residents are food insecure, according to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s website.
“This means that most residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” she said.
Beshoy Malik, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, also stayed back on the College Avenue campus to participate in the New Brunswick Clean Up project.
“It’s important to clean up campus because this is basically our home, so you have to treat it like home and take care of it,” he said.
Aside from building personal growth, volunteering also assists in a professional realm. From developing collaboration to team building skills, Scarlet Day of Service will aid students’ careers, Kohlmann said.
“Scarlet Day of Service exposes students to the nonprofit field,” she said. “It teaches students to be flexible and willing to take on any task handed to them, even if it may not be the most fun or exciting.”
After the day of hard work ended, volunteers returned to the student center at 4:30 p.m. to enjoy a barbecue, a DJ, cotton candy, popcorn and massages.
Even after the day was over, students were encouraged to continue volunteering.
“We have heard of students who have stayed connected with their community partner,” Kohlmann said. “Scarlet Day of Service is not a one-time thing, but a launch pad to get involved with more community service.”