UNI gears up for MLK Day of Service


UNI students and community members will be donating some of their time off on Monday, Jan. 20 to help kids in need. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day event is a collaboration between the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, John Deere, the UNI Office of Community Engagement, Service and Leadership Council, Panther Pantry and the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley. This day of service will be taking place at the UNI-Dome.

“Pack the Dome: Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service” involves two separate shifts between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. During each shift, volunteers will pack 20,000 bags (for a total of 40,000 bags) as a part of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank’s Backpack Program. The program serves 1,400 children at 145 different schools across northeast Iowa each month. Before the kids leave school for the weekend, they are given backpacks filled with kid-friendly meals and snacks that fit in their school bag.

For Hillary Davis, UNI alumna and Americorp Communications Coordinator for the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley, MLK Day provides people with a great opportunity to serve.

“Generally, for universities, schools and businesses, you get the day off,” Davis said. “I think that if you can make use of that day off to make an impact in your community, that’s what’s significant. You’re actively choosing to help.”

Davis got involved with the MLK Day of Service during her sophomore year at UNI in the spring of 2017. As she’s worked with the program, Davis has watched its evolution. During her initial time with it, there was a partnership with Meals from the Heartland. She worked in an assembly line where they served bags of rice, beans and protein. It was messier than the current events, and they had to wear hair nets and gloves. With the Backpack Program, it’s mostly pre-packaged foods like cereal and juice boxes, which results in a more efficient assembly line.

In addition to the changes that she has experienced, there have been other partnerships that have changed the event. According to Davis, the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley has had an office on campus since 2008, and Executive Director Lauren Finke organized MLK Day service activities every year since. In 2014, the Service and Leadership Council partnered with the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

This will be the first MLK Day of Service that’s being held in the UNI-Dome instead of the Maucker Union.

On the technical side of things, a lot of planning went into this year’s event. There will be 30 different assembly lines at the event, and 60 line leads are needed for each shift. Coordinating these people required a collaborative effort between everyone in the MLK Planning Committee. Twenty-three Americorp National Civilian Community Corps members will be serving during the entire day, and Coca-Cola is letting the food bank borrow their semi-trucks to haul bags to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

“Our goal for this event is not only to make a big impact in one day,” Davis said. “It should also serve as a catalyst for volunteering in general. Why not start the semester off engaging with others in the community while also serving in the community that you live in?”

Pack the Dome will also allow volunteers to learn about important topics. People who attend the event will be educated about hunger, food insecurity and poverty. Davis finds it to be a convenient and impactful volunteer opportunity that people want to experience, especially if they’ve already done so before.

“Every organization that has helped out with this event is excited to see the UNI-Dome filled with people interacting with community members,” she said. “Athletes will be next to business leaders, professors and families.”