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Charitable FSU community gives back

A photo of donations lined up from various students.
Donald Halsing / THE GATEPOST

By Donald Halsing

There are an endless number of reasons why donating to charity is important.

During this season of giving, members of the FSU community reflected on the many opportunities they had to make charitable contributions through University initiatives and student groups.

The positive impact of volunteering was listed by Emily Parker, president of Kappa Delta Pi honor society at Framingham State. “Just doing something so small might mean the biggest thing to someone else, because that could mean their next meal has been provided.”

Sustainability was a reason listed by senior Gabriela Mendez-Acevedo. “You’re not just throwing away your clothing. You can give it back to someone and show that you actually care.”

“There’s a lot of need everywhere,” said Mikela Davies, president of Christan Fellowship.

To help address some of that need, Davies said her organization packed 25 boxes as part of its annual support for Operation Christmas Child.

She said the packing event was hosted during one of their weekly meetings and the boxes were brought to a drop-off location the week of Nov. 14, then sent across the world for distribution to children in need.

Davies said Christian Fellowship provided the boxes and items for each donation, and FSU community members sponsored boxes by donating $9. Of the 25 boxes sent out this year, 22 were sponsored by community members and Christian Fellowship paid for the remaining three.

Sponsors could select the age range and gender of the child their box would support. Members of Christian Fellowship ensured each box contained toiletries, hygiene products, school supplies, winter clothing, and toys.

Davies said her organization also packed 85 care bags for distribution to people in need during their Dec. 1 meeting.

The care bags were packed in collaboration with Banner Hill Church, Christian Fellowship’s partner church, which provided drawstring bags and items to go inside. Davies said packing the bags was “something that the church needed assistance with because there’s a lot of bags.”

She added the supplies for each bag included hand warmers, gloves, mittens, granola bars, and encouraging notes written by Christian Fellowship members.

Students had an opportunity to take bags to hand out to people in need, and the rest were given to the church to be distributed, according to Davies.

She said Christian Fellowship usually hosts two or three events with volunteer opportunities per semester, promoting them on their Instagram @cf_fsu.

Davies added, “We have the opportunity to give, whether that’s our time, whether it’s resources, or it’s donations, whether it’s money – anything we can do to help make a difference – that aspect is just so important. We believe the more people who are doing it, the more people we’re encouraging, the bigger of an impact we’re able to have.

Parker, KDP Framingham chapter president, said the honor society created Thanksgiving baskets and donated them to Head Start of Framingham.

Head Start child care centers are run by the Southeastern Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC), according to the SMOC website.

Parker said KDP’s annual Thanksgiving basket tradition has lasted at least 10 years.

Each year, members reach out to Head Start of Framingham to coordinate the donation process, according to Parker.

She said KDP advisor Chu Ly created a flyer which was sent to faculty and staff by Susan Dargan, dean of the colleges of Education and Social & Behavioral Sciences.

KDP set up donation boxes in the McCarthy Center lobby and Whittemore Library, according to Parker.

She added KDP worked with Valerie Hytholt, director of the centers for early childhood education, to request donations from parents of children enrolled at the centers. “We got two wagons full of donations from the families.”

Parker said members shopped at local grocery stores as well to obtain enough non-perishable foods. Because they didn’t have a place to store turkeys, KDP partnered with local grocery stores – including Shaw’s, Market Basket, and Stop & Shop – that donated free gift cards for seven baskets.

KDP donated 20 baskets to Head Start. “I’m so happy to say this,” Parker added. “It is the most that KDP has ever made.

She said each basket contained two boxes of stuffing, two cans of green beans, a can of corn, a can of soup, a box of cornbread mix, a box of mashed potatoes, and a bottle of juice. Macaroni and cheese, pasta, and different types of beans were distributed among the baskets.

Parker said KDP began the project the first weekend of November and the finished baskets were picked up Nov. 22.

She said plans are underway to host a book drive or school supply drive next semester to support local public schools.

Mendez-Acevedo, a senior fashion merchandising major, donated clothing to Ashland-based non-proit Home 2 Homes. Rebekah Carter, one of the shelter’s co-founders, is an FSU alumna.

Donating clothes was one part of “The Community Upcycling Project” she created for an independent study.

Mendez-Acevedo said she collected clothing from faculty, staff, and students throughout October.

Because she had worked as the Foundations Peer Mentor intern, Mendez-Acevedo asked Ben Trapanick, director of new student and family programs, to email current peer mentors asking for donations.

“I was a little scared going into doing this project because I thought I was going to be doing it all alone,” Mendez-Acevedo said. “The day after that email got sent out, 20 people emailed me and asked, ‘Where can I donate?’”

Millie González, interim dean of the Whittemore Library, offered to set up a box in the library to collect donations.

“I had to empty out the box about five times because there were so many donations,” Mendez-Acevedo added.

She said donated clothes were then sorted based on their condition. Three “huge bags” of clothes in “perfect condition” were donated to the non-profit. Carter requested Mendez-Acevedo prioritize winter clothes.

She hoped students would “upcycle” clothes that were not in good enough condition before donating them, but wasn’t able to see that idea through. However, Mendez-Acevedo held workshops Dec. 2 and 3 for students to practice “upcycling” old clothes.

During the workshops, about 10 students worked with T-shirts, button-up shirts, and “cool prints that they could put together.” While these clothes were “worn out,” Mendez-Acevedo said students did a really good job repairing them.

One student replaced the missing lining in a jacket with flannel fabric, while others cut out stained fabric and replaced the holes with patches.

Some of the “upcycled” garments are on display in the Whittemore Library. Mendez-Acevedo will give a presentation about the project Dec. 14.

Mendez-Acevedo said the “upcycled” pieces will be kept in the fashion department’s archives and shown at open houses, and some could be placed in the Hemenway lobby on the second floor landing.

Home 2 Homes is currently conducting numerous fundraisers on its Facebook page.

Kayleigh Novac, student involvement finance and operation manager, said the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development (SILD) hosted its annual Giving Tree event to collect toys for United Way of Tri-County.

She said this is the seventh year SILD has held the Giving Tree.

SILD provided nearly 300 gifts for 70 children, according to Novac.

She said the majority of donors were faculty and staff. She sent the first requests out in early

November, “and almost immediately, my inbox was flooded with people signing up to do it.”

Novac added, “We did have a couple of students do it, too, which was awesome.”

She said a table was set up in the McCarthy Center lobby where FSU community members could read children’s wish lists.

Novac said members of American Sign Language (ASL) Club stopped by the table. She said they collected enough donations through their group, classmates, family, and friends to provide toys for three to four children.

She added departments that sponsored children included New Student and Family Programs, Career Services, Residence Life, Admissions, and Veteran Services. In some cases, individuals from each department donated, while other departments made a collective donation.

“I’ve always been raised on the thought that to someone who has been given so much in life, you should be giving back as much as you can,” Novac said. “That’s why I personally was like, ‘I’m doing the Giving Tree this year. I don’t care if no one else wants to do it – I’m making it happen.”

University Police collaborated with SILD to deliver toys collected for the Giving Tree. The department shared pictures on its Facebook and Twitter pages of the toys being loaded into a police cruiser and delivered to United Way of Tri Country Dec. 6.

University Police Community Resource Officer Katelyn Kelly said she is planning more charitable events for next semester, including collecting clothing donations for veterans in collaboration with the Office of Veteran Services. “It’s in the early stages of planning, but that is something that I want to do.”

Interim Dean González said she missed the Nov. 1 cutoff to register for Toys for Tots, which the library usually co-sponsors with University Police.

However, she reached out to Wayside Youth as a potential partner to continue the library’s tradition of collecting toys for donation.

González said her daughter is a clinician at Wayside Youth. She learned from her that clinicians are the people who hand out toys to the children served by the organization.

“That’s why I asked, ‘Is it possible that we can partner with your organization?’” González said.

“For us not to give away toys this season just didn’t seem right, so that’s why I moved to find another partner,” she added.

Last year, the large donation box in the library was filled over three times.

At the time of publication, González was still waiting for confirmation from Wayside Youth to arrange the library’s donation.

She added public libraries are the “heart of the community” and a great place to learn about ways to donate and give back.

Some charitable activities benefit FSU community members directly.

Meg Nowak Borrego, dean of students, said her office maintains an emergency meal bank for students who are food insecure.

She said the number of meal swipes in the bank decreased last academic year because fewer students were living on campus and purchasing meal plans. The number increased this semester, especially throughout November and December.

Toward the end of each semester, the Dean of Students Office emails students asking for donations as students prepare to move out of residence halls, according to Nowak Borrego.

She said her office usually provides “a handful” of swipes to each student who requests them. If students require more assistance, she directs them to other resources the University can provide.

“I’ve never not been in a position where I’ve had students ask me for meals, and then I haven’t been able to provide them with some,” she added.

Nowak Borrego said her office also collects donated winter coats and supplies them to community members who need one. This year’s coat drive began Nov. 15, “and we’ll do it until it stops being cold.”

This year, the coat rack is located in the Rams Resource Center (RRC) below West Hall. Nowak Borrego said she hopes people who need a coat will visit the RRC “and then see that the Rams Resource Center is an option for people to use.”

As with meal swipes, Nowak Borrego said she reaches out to students at the end of the fall semester for coat donations. She also reaches out to students when they return in January in case they get a new coat or grow out of their old one to encourage them to donate it.

Nowak Borrego said the RRC is minimizing stock as the semester comes to a close, preparing for a lull during winter break. The RRC restarted operations this semester following a closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the Dean of Students Office usually finds volunteers for the center during the spring semester in preparation for the fall.

However, she said this semester, “We had to start hiring people to help us and recruiting volunteers in the fall, because nobody was thinking about that last spring.”

Nowak Borrego said most of the students who worked and volunteered in the center before the pandemic graduated. “So we had to start over again.”

Christine Ruddy, development associate for Circle of Hope, Inc. of Needham, said her organization donated over 1,700 items to the RRC between July 1 and Nov. 30.

These items included over 50 coats and winter accessories, 80 pairs of underwear and socks, 920 hygiene products, 170 sheets, blankets, and comforters, 400 face masks, and 30 “college dorm essentials packages,” which included bedding, towels, a laundry basket, and a shower caddy.

Ruddy said these items are purchased new or discounted with funding from grants and donations, as well as from collection drives.

She added Circle of Hope “gratefully welcomes help” organizing collection drives, assembling backpacks for homeless mothers, and sorting donations for deliveries to shelters.

Andrea Schneider, Distribution Manager for Dignity Matters, said her organization provides menstrual care products to 50 students each month through the RRC.

She said food stamps and WIC benefits can’t be used to purchase menstrual products, and they are rarely donated to food pantries or homeless shelters. “Dignity Matters helps 10,000 people manage their periods with dignity each month, and for most of them, we are the only reliable source of these products.”

Schneider said their products are obtained through donations or purchased through grant funding.

She encourages anyone interested in helping to visit their website to learn about donating and volunteering to sort and pack the two million menstrual products Dignity Matters donates each year.

According to data from Robin Kurkomelis, administrative assistant to the Dean of Students, 1,032 individual donations were made to the RRC this semester. These donations included 300 pounds of food items.

According to her data, these donations assisted 76 different individuals who utilized the RRC this semester.

Nowak Borrego said, “So far, we’ve been able to help everybody who’s come down to” the RRC.

Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, said her office can access around $38,000 from the Student Support Fund to provide aid to students, even if they are not eligible for other sources of funding.

She said many students avoid seeking assistance because they know someone in a worse situation than themselves.

Holloway said students often notice when their peers need assistance before faculty members do. She said students who speak up for themselves when they need assistance “have either been trained or trained themselves to advocate for themselves, which is what I wish everybody would do.”

Eric Gustafson, vice president of development and alumni relations, said donations from alumni and friends of the University maintain two funds accessible by the Financial Crisis Response Team – the Student Support Fund and the FSU Alumni Association Emergency Grant Fund.

He added the FSU Foundation has also set aside $50,000 for the Student Support Fund.

Gustafson said this semester, the FSU Foundation also received donations to grow current endowments ranging from $10 to $25,000. These donations “help those funds increase in value and provide more annual scholarship funding for students.”



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