December 1, 2003

Alumni volunteer nationally at food banks

By Eric Rangus

As part of a national service project for Emory alumni, the Board of Governors of the Association of Emory Alumni (AEA) organized National Alumni Volunteer Day, on Saturday, Nov. 15, sending Emory graduates to food banks and soup kitchens across the country to lend a helping hand in feeding those who are hungry.

In Atlanta, a mix of 35 local Emory alumni, members of the Student Alumni Association (current students who assist AEA with programming) and Volunteer Emory (VE) staff visited the Atlanta Community Food Bank Product Rescue Center, where they sorted more than 14,000 lbs. of food—enough for 10,000 meals—for distribution to charities fighting hunger in the metro area as well as for meals cooked for hungry people individually.

“I hope this will encourage alumni to plan more community service projects,” said Hildie Cohen, VE director and an alumna herself (’96Ox, ’98C). “I’d also like to see more projects with current students and alumni volunteering together.”

The planning for the Atlanta project began over the summer when Renelda Mack (’83C), outgoing president of the AEA Board of Governors, contacted Cohen to talk about the idea of a national service day for alumni. Serving at a food bank seemed like a good plan because most major metropolitan areas have a food bank or soup kitchens.
Cohen has a longstanding working relationship with the Atlanta Food Bank, where VE makes regular service trips, so coordination in Emory’s hometown would not be difficult. The volunteer day was set for mid-November, which coincided appropriately with National Hunger and Homelessness Month. Emory’s VE-sponsored Hunger and Homelessness Week wrapped up with the Nov. 15 volunteer activity.

“I started working on this in September; I did something everyday and I’m still doing followup” said Chermayne Harda-way, coordinator of regional programs for AEA. She contacted each alumni chapter, which was responsible for organization in its home city. “It was a long process, but it was well worth it,” Hardaway said.

Counting Atlanta, 15 alumni organizations took part. The largest turnout was 54 volunteers in Washington. The farthest away was in Seattle. “We’ve never had anything going on up there,” Hardaway said. In all, nearly 300 Emory alumni volunteered across the country.

When Mack was serving as president of the board of governors, she said her goal was to strengthen ties among Emory alumni worldwide. The best way to do that, she felt, was through community service projects.

The primary purpose of National Alumni Volunteer Day was to help the less fortunate. However, there were several other goals; in this aspect, Cohen’s hopes of forging tighter bonds between current and former students were right on the money.

“In Atlanta we wanted students to work closely with alumni,” said Mack, who volunteered with 19 others in her hometown of West Palm Beach, Fla. “We want students to know that we, as alumni, want to strengthen our ties with them.”
Nationally, the hope was to create a domino effect. Volunteering would bring alumni closer together within their communities; it also would increase Emory’s

West Palm Beach, for instance, does not have a formal alumni chapter. But activities such as volunteering serve as avenues for bringing the Emory community together, even in a different state. The contingent there included not only alumni and their family members but also parents of current students.

This is the first time alumni have organized a national volunteer activity, but it almost certainly will not be the last. Hardaway said AEA staff plan to meet in early 2004 to plan for future service activities in not only Atlanta but in other cities with alumni chapters. Mack said the West Palm Beach alumni would be meeting in a few weeks to plan for next year.