“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are we doing for others?’”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
While most college students celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a few extra hours of sleep, students from Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore campus celebrated the legacy of the late civil rights leader the way he would have wanted: helping the poor.
Sara Crooke, the student government advisor at HCC SouthShore, was joined by 20 students from the Ruskin school’s Student Government Organization on Saturday morning, Jan. 17, in Riverview, first collecting food from Sam’s Club and then packaging it with help from volunteers at South Shore United Methodist Church on Big Bend Road.
“A lot of the students at SouthShore love to give back to the community,” Crooke said. “We are a smaller campus compared to some of the other HCC campuses, but I know that’s a big component of why the students want to be involved. They are always eager for volunteer opportunities where they can give back.”
It’s the second year HCC SouthShore students have participated in the “MLK Day of Service: A Day On, Not a Day Off.” The students’ charitable work was spurred by an HCC grant to honor King’s legacy and encourage students to work in the community.
Backpacks on a Mission, a South Shore United Methodist charity set up to feed poor children, won the $4,000 grant and, cash in hand, was able to buy food. Part of the agreement upon receiving the grant was that college students would help out with the program, which the HCC students were glad to do.
Started in 2011 with only 20 local students, Backpacks on a Mission now serves 110 youngsters, giving out backpacks full of food every Friday. With many on free breakfasts and lunches [at school[, the children sometimes go hungry on the weekends, and that’s where the extra food is critical, said Kathy McGartland, who coordinates Backpacks on a Mission at South Shore United Methodist.
Selecting students for the program through consultation with school guidance counselors and social workers, the program serves children at Corr, Summerfield and Summerfield Crossings elementary schools.
“We have about 25 volunteers who help on a weekly basis at the church,” McGartland said.
Funded entirely by donations and grants, McGartland spends about $1,500 a month on food. “I have lived in Riverview for 28 years and it’s just in my heart and passion to help people in need,” McGartland said.
Helping with the program gives the King holiday more purpose, said Brittany Jackson-Marquis, secretary of HCC SouthShore’s student government.
“Yes, we get a day off but I love the opportunity to do something to take that day off to make it about more than just sleeping in and not doing homework,” said Jackson-Marquis.
“I was kind of surprised to see so many of my peers here today,” she said. “It’s hard to get them to come after class to do something fun, so to see them out here on Saturday morning — perky, on time and ready to serve — is great.”