“Gift of Giving” Volunteer Season Starts at COD

Students can combat hunger and homelessness over the holiday season with ongoing volunteer opportunities on the COD campus and beyond.

Mariyam Syed, Staff Writer

As the year comes to a close, COD is bustling with opportunities for students to volunteer on-campus. It started Nov. 5 with events like the Sleep Out Saturday Night to promote solidarity with people facing homelessness.  Families who have received housing services from the Bridge Communities organization shared their stories with the participants. Culinary arts students and other volunteers served potato soup and bread to about 30 community members. Some participants ended the night by sleeping in their cars.

(Provided by COD Newsroom)

At the Saturday Sleep Out, Karen Wells, CEO of Bridge Communities, discussed how homelessness in DuPage may manifest in hidden ways.

“That’s what it looks like a lot here in DuPage County. Families that are doubled up, families that are sleeping in hotels or cars,” Wells described. “I know we don’t see it sometimes, but it’s so real. These are our neighbors, sometimes we refer to them as our invisible neighbors.”

 The DuPage County Health Department’s report has shown the number of homeless people is steadily increasing since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the latest data from January 2022, 524 people reported being homeless to the county health department. The work of the organizations and student volunteers at the event addresses this community issue.

One such volunteer was Saidmuhammad Aseov, who helped with setting up the event and distributing food. He described how working through the windy night, which dipped to about 36 degrees Fahrenheit, was a lesson in the everyday struggles people without shelter face.

Photo provided by Saidmuhammad Asoev

“I could barely stand there and tolerate the coldness,” he said. “People take things for granted without realizing that what we have might be a dream for people out there in the streets.” 

Continuing through the month, COD Cares has partnered with 16 social service and donation agencies from across DuPage County for the 2022 Gift of Giving program. To participate, students need to form volunteer teams with classmates, friends and family members. Then they view the donation gift wishlists of their chosen agency. These items can be put in designated locations called Drop Gnomes around campus or delivered directly to the agencies by Dec. 9. 

There are still six participating agencies that have not been claimed by a donation team. Three of these specifically serve families – the Glen Ellyn Children’s Center, Abundant Children and Family Services, and Teen Parents Connection. There is also the DuPage Senior Citizen Council in Wheaton and the Alive Center that students can collect donations for. The food pantry locations of the Islamic Circle of North America are also accepting donations through the Gift of Giving program. Based on the organizations’ purposes and localities, students can choose which one to collect donations for this month.

A pop-up mobile market from the Northern Illinois Food Bank will occur during the mornings of Nov. 15 and Dec. 12. It will be in Parking Lot 6, at the corner of South Lambert and College Road. A team of up to 12 volunteers will work to package food and other essential items. These will be given to clients who can drive up to the mobile market , no I.D. or proof of income needed. This measure is intended to broaden the reach of the food drive, as evidenced by past years of success. In the July 2020 to June 2021 period, the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s mobile market food drives provided 18 million meals to families in need.

The COD Fuel Pantry is also sponsoring a holiday food package drive to help people prepare for Thanksgiving and winter break. It will occur on Nov. 16-18 and Dec. 14-16 in the Culinary and Hospitality Center’s Wheat Café, Room 1012. To participate in these food drives, volunteers can follow the private link to the Gift of Giving 2022 sign up.

Other student clubs, such as the Muslim Student Association, have partnered with Feed My Starving Children in Aurora for food packaging drives. It will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 17. Volunteers can sign-up on MSA’s Instagram.

COD will also host a blood drive in partnership with the Versiti Blood Center of Illinois from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 30. It will be in the Student Services Center, Room 3245. Donors have the chance to win a $10 e-gift card. To sign up for the blood drive through the Versiti website, go to the Donate Now tab and enter 60137 in the zip code search. Versiti encourages people of diverse blood types and ethnic backgrounds to sign up so that there are more potential matches made between donors and recipients.

Interested volunteers can go to the organization websites for more information and sign-up options. Students can also contact COD Cares for more service learning opportunities beyond the Gift of Giving season.

Graphic by Misbah Kaludi and Mariyam Syed