Over 200 students participate in UMSL’s MLK Week of Service events

Four Black, female students who are smiling, stand behind a table that has different colored backpacks.

Over 200 students participated in the MLK Week of Service event sponsored by the Office of Student Involvement. One of the activities entailed filling up backpacks with supplies for youth in foster care.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only national holiday that is selected as a day of service, marking the civil rights leader’s legacy of being a public servant. Last week, over 200 students at the University of Missouri–St. Louis participated in a week of public service projects to commemorate the holiday and honor King’s memory.

The Office of Student Involvement created a week of service to give more students an opportunity to take part in the projects.

“During orientation students expressed wanting to do more service events to make an impact,” said Foram Patel, the graduate assistant for service in the Office of Student Involvement.

Patel helped organize a series of service projects, including making dog toys to be donated to the Humane Society of Missouri, making greeting cards for senior citizens at St. Johns Place, putting together gift bags for UMSL nursing students and backpacks for children in foster care.

The tradition of UMSL students participating in the MLK Day of Service began in 2009 and entailed off-site activities such as planting a garden or painting walls at a school. The past two years of events have been virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year, students were able to gather in person and work on the projects together.

Freshman Monica Hyde, a psychology major, wanted to help make gift bags for UMSL nursing students to let them know they’re appreciated and to participate in King’s memory.

Two white young women sit at a table assembling gift bags.

Monica Hyde and Gretchen Vander Pluym assemble gift bags for nursing students for the MLK Week of Service event sponsored by the Office of Student Involvement.

“I think nurses can have a hard time, especially during the pandemic,” Hyde said. “Something like even a small gift can lift up their spirits – like gum or hand sanitizer, which they are constantly using. It’s just a good part of his legacy that we’re trying to help all these people.”

Gretchen Vander Pluym, also a freshman majoring in psychology, enjoys helping the community and wanted to contribute her time to the MLK week of service events.

“I find a lot of joy in doing small things to help out,” she said. “Every chance I get to do something small to help someone, of course, I’m going to do it.”

Vander Pluym also values King’s legacy of working for all communities to have equal rights.

Patel believes the week of service events were a success because it allowed students to participate on their schedule and make contributions that individually may have seemed minute but collectively were significant.

“The week of service,” Patel said, “is something small that students can do to make an impact.”

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