Nearly 1,600 volunteers - many of them UNI students, faculty and staff - filled the UNI-Dome on Monday to pack 48,000 backpacks with food for school children most at risk of going hungry.
The event, which was billed as the largest single-day volunteer effort ever organized in the Cedar Valley, was a partnership between UNI, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley and John Deere. For many it was the perfect way to spend a few hours giving back to the community on Martin Luther King Jr. day.
It has become so popular that the event was moved out of Maucker Union and into the UNI-Dome to accommodate the crowds of volunteers who worked in two shifts.The goal is to continue the program’s growth.
“Next year, we’ll have to figure out how we can do it even bigger,” UNI Provost Jim Wohlpart told a local reporter. “This is at the heart of who we are as a university — to be deeply engaged in our community to make it a better place.”
The first shift did the wave in the stadium stands Monday morning, then streamed onto the floor, many of them high-fiving Panther mascots TC and TK on the way to one of 34 tables set up to package food for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank’s BackPack Program.
That program serves about 4,100 children each month at nearly 150 schools across northeast Iowa. Children who may go hungry when not in school receive the backpacks of food before class lets out for the weekend.
Last year, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank distributed 150,000 backpacks in 16 counties.