Annual Back Packin’ the Dome Day of Service

Annual Back Packin’ the Dome Day of ServiceUNI Packin' the Dome Event

A thousand volunteers from around the Cedar Valley, including UNI students, filled the UNI-Dome’s field on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to pack backpacks to serve food-insecure children in Northeast Iowa during the annual Back Packin’ the Dome event.

In three 90-minute shifts, packing nearly 48,000 backpacks of nutritious food was completed. This supports Feeding America’s local division of the BackPack Program which ensures Northeast Iowa children enrolled in 145 schools have plenty of nutritious food to eat on weekends and times they may not be able to rely on school meal programs.

Northeast Iowa Food Bank’s executive director Barb Prather acknowledged in her remarks that the last two years have likely been the ones where families have been hit the hardest with food insecurity. She mentioned that food insecurity has now returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The annual day of service is a partnership between UNI, the Office of Community Engagement, Panther Pantry (UNI’s food bank for students) and AmeriCorps. All these organizations come together to support the work started by the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

While this event has been a staple at UNI for many years, this is only the second time the MLK Day of Service took place in the UNI-Dome. Previously, it had been held in the Maucker Union, but the event’s growing popularity necessitated a larger venue so it moved to the Dome in 2020 for the first time. The event was not held last year due to the pandemic.

Among the volunteers were a number of elected officials including U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa Lt. Governor Adam Gregg, Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green, State Senator Eric Giddens, State Senator Liz Mathis, State Representative Bob Kressig, State Representative Ras Smith, State Representative Dave Williams, and Cedar Falls City Council Members Kelly Dunn and Dustin Ganfield.

“I always find this day so inspiring because I think it showcases the amount of time and effort people in the Cedar Valley are willing to give back to their community,” said Julianne Gassman, UNI’s director of community engagement. “I don’t think it happens only on this day, but on other days they're doing it, they're not doing it under one roof for one cause like this.”

Even though the event was held before UNI started classes, plenty of students still showed up. In addition, along each table AmeriCorps volunteers helped keep the event moving, not only with logistical guidance but also with their enthusiastic attitudes.