By Jeff Copeland
This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day may have been one of the coldest in St. Louis history, but there was a feeling of great warmth and community spirit in the days that followed at the University of Missouri–St. Louis for the MLK Week of Service events held to benefit local charities.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. UMSL’s MLK Week of Service was created by the Office of Student Involvement to provide students with a more accessible way to participate in service projects.
This year, the university partnered with four local nonprofit organizations – LifeWise STL, the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, ImpactLife Community Blood Center and the United Way of Greater St. Louis – and held events to benefit each last Tuesday through Friday.
“These MLK Week of Service events are important because they promote community engagement, values of empathy and compassion, social responsibility, personal growth, a culture of giving back, a sense of belonging, inspiration from Dr. King’s legacy and educational opportunities that contribute to the holistic development of our students,” said Mindy Dilley, director of the Office of Student Involvement. “What’s more, the events we hold throughout the week are on a more ‘stop in and out’ basis, so it works better for students’ schedules.”
Students as well as UMSL staff members joined together on Tuesday to make 100 kits for new moms which will be distributed by LifeWise STL. Each included a journal, pen, pampering items, an energy bar, lip balm and lotion, along with an encouraging note written by students. On Wednesday, volunteers had the opportunity to assemble 100 first period kits complete with five overnight pads, five regular pads and five panty liners for the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank.
Those on campus Thursday might have seen the ImpactLife donor bus outside the Millennium Student Center. Fifteen UMSL students and staff donated 11 units of blood at the event. Since each unit can help save up to three lives, that means up to 33 lives could be impacted by this event.
The MLK Week of Service concluded Friday with UMSL volunteers gathering to fill 200 personal hygiene kits – including combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste packets, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, bars of soap and deodorants – for the United Way.
“The turnout was amazing!” said sophomore Shaniyah Sparkling, a Louie’s Leader who attended Tuesday’s event for LifeWise STL. “I was honored to be a part of this because it ties into UMSL’s core mission of inclusion and support. I was just glad to have had the chance to help.”
Sophomore Meredith Stroud, a peer leader in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, agreed, adding that participating has encouraged her to join in other volunteering efforts on campus.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was dedicated to serving the unheard and under-represented, and this ties in with his message and mission,” Stroud said. “I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other volunteer opportunities.”
UMSL staff members also took advantage of the MLK Week of Service events to give of their time. Ashleah Summers, student support specialist in the Office of Inclusive Postsecondary Education, came to help at ImpactLife’s donor bus.
“Giving blood kind of freaks me out a little, but it’s so important,” she said. “There’s no way to duplicate blood – you have to donate it!”
Dilley is grateful for the impact MLK Week of Service can make in the community.
“The items we put together and the blood we donate go to people in the St. Louis region,” she said. “I think students enjoy service, but schedules, weather, access – all of those things sometimes hinder their opportunities. While our projects seem pretty low key, they provide a chance to show students that even those types of things are impactful.”
Sparkling was even more concise in her assessment of the week.
“We’re good people doing good things,” she said.
As part of UMSL’s 60th anniversary celebration, the university set a goal to complete 60,000 hours of volunteer service. Anyone who loves UMSL is eligible to log their service hours and contribute to the initiative. Any volunteer activity on campus, in the wider community and beyond performed between August 21, 2023 and May 11, 2024 can be entered and will count toward the overall goal.