College students spend MLK Day serving the community
Jan. 19, 2014 @ 03:08 PM

N.C. Central University considers the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a day on rather than a day off.

The mantra will seep into the walls of the university’s new food pantry, as volunteers build shelves and roll on new coats of paint. NCCU’s female students will pass the mantra on to young girls of the McDougald Terrace neighborhood, the largest public housing community in the city. And hundreds more Eagles will package the mantra into meals that will be sent across the globe to hungry families.

Students at NCCU, Duke and Durham Tech are building upon MLK’s legacy of activism by taking community service seriously today.

Courtney Law, president of the NCCU student organization 100 Black Women, said her female membership is going to speak with 7- to 12-year-old McDougald Terrace girls about self-worth and responsibility in an MLK Day discussion, and ask them what they want to be when they grow up and if they’ve considered college.

“That’s the age where we need that push, where we say, ‘You can be anything you want to be,” Law said.

NCCU’s plans for opening a food pantry for needy students have been more than a year in the making, and MLK Day is a chance for students to partner with Habitat for Humanity to renovate a room in the Dent Human Sciences Building with new shelves and fresh paint, with hopes that the pantry will be open by Valentine’s Day.

Jason O’Briant, director of NCCU’s didactic program in dietetics, plans to help with the painting.

He said he already has received calls from students wondering when the pantry would be open. He has heard stories of students couch-surfing when the campus shuts down for the holidays, or of others exhausting their funds by paying medical bills. 

According to NCCU's Office of Institutional Advancement, 33 percent of the student population are adults 25 and older, and 95 percent of students are receiving financial aid. Many adult students live off campus, and work and go to school simultaneously.

“When everyone is there and sees the excitement, it’s going to be very satisfactory knowing that these are the people who will also man the food pantry, who will also give back to it,” O’Briant said.

There also will be groups partnering on campus with United Way of the Greater Triangle. In NCCU’s Walker Complex, students will help make scarves and, teddy bears, and organize food items for families in need.

“Our model is truth and service,” said Deborah Bailey, NCCU director of community service learning. “This is what we do. And to see our students really respond, to basically say, ‘This is who we are, we are here to get our education, our education is, yes, inside the classroom, but our education is connecting with the community.’ To see them rise up and say this is important to us.”

Durham Technical Community College is playing host this year to the Million Meals event for Stop Hunger Now, a humanitarian aid organization based in Raleigh that delivers nutritious meals of rice, soy and dehydrated vegetables to children and families around the world.

Today, Stop Hunger Now will rely on Durham Tech, NCCU and Duke to package thousands of meals.

Sally Parlier, Durham Tech’s volunteer services coordinator, said hundreds of people will fill the Wynn Student Services Center multipurpose room and cafeteria, and MLK Day will encourage fellowship among Durham students.

“The impact that this one-day event will have will really last throughout the course of this year,” Parlier said.

About 320 students from Duke University will participate in the Million Meals event. Duke served as event host last year.

“It seems to be getting bigger and bigger every year,” said Neil Hoefs, senior resident community engagement fellow at Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. “The energy is going to be just the same and we’re packaging more meals this year, too.

“The students don’t get together enough, and it’s nice (that) when they’re getting together, they’re getting together for the common good.”