UI joins volunteers for day of service

URBANA — The University of Illinois is joining forces with community volunteers to host a new "day of service" next month, including an effort to pack 146,000 meals for the poor.

The Campus & Community Day of Service on April 20 will kick off National Volunteer Week (April 21-27) and coincide with the annual Austin Cloyd Day of Service. Cloyd, a former Centennial High School student, died in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University.

The hope is that the event will establish a new tradition for the university community, officials said.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to work as a team to benefit our community and demonstrate our commitment to public engagement," Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in a statement. "We are fortunate to live in such a vibrant community, which is one of the strengths of our university."

More than 600 volunteers from campus and local communities have already registered to help. To sign up or learn more, visit http://cuvolunteer.org/DayOfService2013.

Participants are encouraged to join in the meal-packing event or other activities, or sponsor their own projects that week.

The university is partnering with the United Way, Busey and The Rotary Club of Champaign on the effort. Rotary and the Centennial High School Interact Club will sponsor the sixth annual Austin Cloyd Day of Service event the same day, with Interact members from Champaign Central, Urbana and St. Thomas More high schools. Austin Cloyd was a member of Centennial Interact when she lived in Champaign and epitomized the Rotary motto of "service above self," organizers said.

Sarah Zehr, project manager for the UI, said the university helped promote Austin's Day last year and worked with the United Way to create CUvolunteer.org, a website that connects more than 1,000 volunteers with scores of nonprofit organizations that need help. The Campus and Community Day of Service will expand on those efforts and help get UI students and faculty more involved in community projects, she said. The Student Alumni Ambassadors group, which already sponsors an "I Help" day of volunteer service in the fall to coincide with UI homecoming, is also involved, Zehr said.

The event also coincides with Busey's second annual Community Promise Week, when employees are encouraged to volunteer and "make a difference," said Amy Randolph, executive vice president of growth strategies.

At the meal-packing event, organized by the student group Illini Fighting Hunger, volunteers will package 1,000 meals for each year that the university has been chartered, Zehr said. The meals will be distributed to needy families in Champaign-Urbana through the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

The hope is to get 900 volunteers for the meal-packaging event, or three shifts of 300 people each. It will take place at the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building in Ikenberry Commons.

Volunteers will use a recipe created by the National Soybean Research Laboratory at the UI, an Italian-style stovetop casserole with macaroni, soy protein and dried vegetables. Families can just add water and cook it for about 25 minutes, Zehr said.

Organizers are using donated funds to buy the ingredients. ADM also donated $5,000 worth of vegetable protein, and U.S. Foods offered a $5,000 discount off other ingredients.

Graduate student Gregory Damhorst, who founded Illini Fighting Hunger last spring, also helped organize the Salvation Army's "Million Meals for Haiti" project in Champaign in 2010 and a similar event in 2011 called Meals of Hope.

Illini Fighting Hunger works with area churches or service groups that want to do meal-packing, and so far it has sponsored more than a dozen events since last spring. The group has packaged more than 123,000 meals using a rice and soy recipe from Kids Against Hunger, a national organization, plus another 9,000 pounds of white rice. The meals go to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, the Wesley Evening Food Pantry or other local food banks.

Damhorst said his group has kept costs low by buying food-packing equipment through Kids Against Hunger, so it doesn't have to rent machinery or pay expenses to outside organizations every time it sponsors a meal-packing event. He estimates it costs his group about 13 cents a meal to pack food, as opposed to 24 cents for the Meals of Hope event, where organizers paid a Florida group to provide equipment and other services.

Illini Fighting Hunger approached food scientists at the National Soybean Research Lab to develop the recipe for the April 20 event, and Damhorst hopes to continue using it for future projects.

"There's plenty of this expertise on campus here at Illinois. Why not come up with our own recipe and have something that's unique to Illinois that's actually tailored for folks in Central Illinois?" said Damhorst, who is pursing a medical degree and a doctorate in bioengineering through the UI's Medical Scholars program.

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