Mary Berglin, 25-year director of the Vermillion food pantry, is thankful University of South Dakota students make the choice to volunteer on a weekly basis, and said she would have to schedule twice as many adults to perform the tasks if they were not willing to help.
Some students help out merely because they want to, while some are required to complete a certain number of service hours for class. Berglin said she applauds the professors who encourage students to give time to something other than their own schedules once in a while.
There has been a 66 percent increase in the number of people being fed in the past five years. While 1,805 individuals were fed in 2009, the year 2013 yielded 5,373. She said the students are a “godsend.”
Berglin said the escalation of those financially burdened could be attributed to the cold weather Vermillion has been having. Instead of spending money on food, families are paying their heat bills to stay warm.
The Vermillion Food Pantry is the only pantry in Clay County and is not funded by the government.
It has 80 volunteers, including students, who help stock shelves and prepare boxes to give away to those in need.
“I’m so happy and pleased to have the USD students come and volunteer,” Berglin said. “For them to be thinking about somebody else is wonderful.”
“A Touch of Soul Community Dinner” will feature comfort food in an effort to have people experience different food and culture Feb. 10. It will be one of the Welcome Table meals served weekly on Monday night.
Alafia Wright helped organize the meal to be served to the community, by the community.
He said the meal will be a great opportunity for community members and USD students to have conversation and fellowship.
Volunteers help serve a dinner menu of barbeque pulled pork, fried chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, collared greens, cornbread and red beans or black eyed peas. Dessert options are red velvet cake, pound cake and sweet potato pie.
Wright said the group wanted to serve a nutritious meal, but at the same time wanted to expose the cultured cuisine.
In 2013, a potluck-style meal was done with student organizations at Coyote Village, but the location was moved to the United Methodist Church this year.
“We wanted to take it off-campus and touch the Vermillion community,” Wright said.
He said the relationship between USD and Vermillion is too separated and the dinner is a great opportunity for people to help build a strong and vibrant community, whether by giving a portion of their time or even just a smile.
“We want to be able to know who our neighbors are and feel passionate and strong about helping those who have need,” Wright said.
Junior Holly Rus said she has noticed fraternities picking up trash in ditches, along with other organizations, and said it is important for students to be involved with the community so they can meet new people.
USD and the Vermillion community have had a developing relationship. With the recent opening of food venues in the Muenster University Center MUC expansion, more members of the community have been more prone to stop by campus, said Dean of Students Kim Grieve.
Grieve helped host the community open house in the MUC Jan. 16. The night consisted of activities for families, including music, face painting, a raffle and a photo booth.
She said the purpose of the night was to let community members see the expansion and experience the new venues in hopes they would return knowing the area is part of their community as well as the students’.
“You always want to have your university be a part of the community and the community be a part of the university,” Grieve said. “It just provides a richer experience for everyone involved.”
Movies shown on the new big screen would be open to the public throughout the semester, but Grieve said they are always welcome on campus.
Grieve said there are no dates set yet for more open houses like the one in January, but ads would be placed in the windows of the MUC and on road signs.
She said the MUC expansion has been a benefit to the students and community.
“The students certainly are enjoying it,” Grieve said. “I think it’s just such an exciting time on campus.”