Last Saturday, roughly 260 UR students showed up to volunteer for Be the Change Day, formerly known as the National Gandhi Day of Service. This year, students went to the local Foodlink to help with many tasks.

“Helping out those who live near us in impoverished states was the major emphasis of the day – not just helping far and distant people, but the people closest to our campus,” sophomore Jess Gambacurta said.

The first Gandhi Day of Service occurred in October 1997 at the University of Michigan. UR began participating in the event in 1999, and the name was changed to Be the Change Day in 2005.

“[Be the Change Day] used to be a much smaller scale event… however, the national organization that controls this event changed its name to appeal to a much more diverse audience,” President of the Association for the Development of Interest in the Indian Subcontinent and senior Namit Sachar said.

Nearly 400 students signed up this year to volunteer although there were only 300 spaces available, which was a large increase from 2005’s 100 volunteers.

“I think the day turned out to be a wonderful celebration of Gandhi’s legacy and the spirit of service at Rochester… I believe that over the last nine years the groups have done a great job at turning a small activity for a few people into a sustainable campus tradition,” Assistant Director of the Rochester Center for Community Leadership Bryan Rotach said.

The event was sponsored by the RCCL, ADITI, the Charles Drew Pre-Health Society, the Community Service Network and Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity, Inc.

The event kicked off at 10:30 a.m. in Douglass Dining Center with a supply of bagels and beverages for the volunteers. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, gave a speech at the kick-off to get the volunteers ready for their day. He highlighted his grandfather’s famous quotation, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” citing dedication to civic services and community spirit. Mayor of the City of Rochester Robert Duffy also gave an address and thanked the volunteers for their contribution to the Rochester community.

According to Sachar, a specific statistic stood out to him at the kick-off.

“An amazing statistic was provided… by the Foodlink Project Coordinator, which was that the amount of we did in the day would be one person’s job for a whole year,” Sachar said. “The fact that we could make such a change in a day, and knowing that the work we did has a lasting effect, gives us a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end of the day.”

After all the volunteers were given a brief history of Foodlink, the buses began taking students to Foodlink. Unfortunately, there were too many people for the two buses that ran to take all the volunteers at once, so students went to Foodlink in groups.

Foodlink takes donations from stores, such as Wegmans, of cans that are slightly dented or boxes that are mildly worn, but that still contain completely edible food. They have also recently expanded to include donations of household items from stores such as Pottery Barn and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Once at Foodlink, the students were delegated jobs such as sorting food and t-shirts, as well as emptying out cans donated from Wegmans. The empty cans were then returned to Wegmans for a container deposit. Other students worked on sorting the actual food to be distributed to soup kitchens.

The day concluded for the volunteers with a dinner prepared by Foodlink down on the banks of the Genesee River at 4 p.m., with buses then returning to campus thereafter.

Be the Change Day took many months to prepare for; plans were already being discussed in June between members of ADITI and SBR. Rotach acted as the advisor to the planning process, which continued over the summer. Meetings are still being held after the service day to assess the change that was made by the volunteers.

Rotach mentioned that the University has also recently hired an AmeriCorps*VISTA member, Jenna Bower, to help students organize larger community service projects such as Be the Change Day.

“Student interest in volunteering has always been incredibly high and we are now able to more fully support these activities,” Rotach said.

ADITI was excited to get involved in this Be the Change Day, since they have participated since 2002.

“We feel it fits into our mission statement, which is to promote awareness of the South Asian region,” Sachar said. “Gandhi was an integral part of the Indian subcontinent’s history and therefore we love to participate in this event. The ADITI membership [also] loves to do events that get the Rochester community involved.”

Gambacurta reiterated the important role Foodlink played in this project and her sentiments on the volunteering process.

“Foodlink’s commitment to the cause was admirable – everyone who works there seems so interested and passionate about what they’re working toward and the difference they’re making,” she said. “Being able to take part in it was really wonderful; students from all over and of difference interests united for a common cause. That in and of itself was a change.”

Halusic is a member of the class of 2010.

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