On a brisk winter morning, dozens of cars filled the University Center (UC) parking lot on the campus of Western Colorado University. Normally, Western’s Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) leadership honor fraternity hosts the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on the weekend honoring him in January, however this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans changed. Western students instead used their extra day off on President’s Day weekend not to ski, icefish or sleep in, but rather serve their community.
One of King’s most famous speeches asked the question, “What are you doing for others?” In a time of immense suffering throughout the world, the challenge of serving others is something that Western students did not shy away from. More than 100 volunteers including 20 site leaders showed up to help 18 organizations of the Gunnison Valley.
ODK’s Vice President Kiri Carmody shared how this day came to be in the midst of a global pandemic.
“We crunched quite a few numbers determining social distancing and providing transportation for volunteers,” said Carmody. “Behind the scenes, we worked with the Community Foundation to utilize the Gunnison Valley Volunteer website for volunteers to sign up. This process streamlined the communications and site distribution between ODK, service sites and volunteers!’
ODK was tasked with making sure volunteers followed county health guidelines while being productive on a day to honor King’s legacy.
“The social distancing requirements were enforced as volunteers checked in at the UC and while they served,” said Carmody. “At each site, students were given tasks that allowed for adequate distancing and mask wearing, as well.”
The Gunnison Country Food Pantry was one of the nonprofits served. The pantry had their volunteers post new signs across the valley to inform community members about the pantry and the resources it has to help feed those in need. Pantry Manager Angie Krueger shared how critical volunteer help from Western students is.
“Students bring strength,” Krueger chuckled. “They also bring new perspectives on what we can do differently here.”
AJ Alt, a community awareness representative at the Pantry, explained how volunteering benefits everyone involved.
“There is no way to lose while volunteering,” Alt said. “It is such a rewarding thing to do as a young person. It is something you can do very easily and flexibly. It is a humbling experience!’
New signs were posted around Gunnison, Almont and Crested Butte informing the community about the Pantry’s address and hours of operation in English and Spanish.
“Every year, we are able to have Western students volunteer on the days of service and who want to continue to volunteer after,” said Krueger. “That is a great feeling.”
Across town, on Western’s campus, Claire Burianek and other members of the Western cheer team volunteered at FreeCycle, a place where students can donate and pick out gently used clothing, shoes, school supplies, small appliances and books among other things. FreeCycle, located in the basement of Ute hall, needed to be organized and cleaned out. Burianek helped organize women’s shirts and talked about her experience as a volunteer.
“I really enjoy service projects like this,” she said. “It can be hard finding time for it being in college, but volunteer ing here on campus has been a great opportunity!’
Burianek and the other 100+ volunteers donated more than 250 hours of service to the Gunnison Valley Community, labor worth about $6,000.
One of the more unique projects this year was a COVID-19 vaccine and data entry collection for Gunnison County Public Health.
“The biggest highlight of the day for me was seeing the excitement from each of the site leaders explaining what their group accomplished,” Carmody said. “It was exciting to see the impact that even a small task has on the Gunnison community as a whole.”
For more information on how to volunteer in the community visit www.gunnisonvalleyvolunteers.com.
(Caitlin Gleason is a Western Colorado University student.)
Organizations that received aid
Gunnison Valley Mentors
• Project Hope of the Gunnison Valley
Gunnison Country Food Pantry
• Gunnison County Library District
• Cattlemen’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink
• Crested Butte / Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce
• Western Facilities Recycling Program
• Western Organics Guild
• Six Points
• Gunnison Health and Human Services
• Mountain Roots
• Gunnison County Public Health
• Seasons Schoolhouse
• Sustainable Development Strategies Group
• Senior Homes