Eastern students give back


Justin Brown

Graduate student, Rachel Lindhart, studying college of student affairs helps with setting up the mobile food pantry in Toledo on Saturday.

Justin Brown, Online Editor

For many students, the Saturday morning after the first week of classes was a chance to sleep in. But for a group of 20 Eastern volunteers led by Beth Gillespie, interim director of civic engagement and volunteerism, it was a time to give back.

The group, consisting of students, faculty and staff came together to assist the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. The food bank, located in Urbana, serves 17 counties, including Coles and Cumberland counties.

Once their paperwork was filled out, the group hit the road for the 50-mile round trip to the Toledo Christian Church, where they spent much of the morning setting up and handing out fresh produce, bread, canned goods and other food supplies to those in need.

For graduate student Rachel Lindhart, a volunteer at the Charleston Food Pantry, this was her third mobile food pantry in the last year. She said the experience would prepare her to better serve her future students, as she hopes to work with international students to some capacity in her career.

“It means so much to me to be able to give back to the community that gives me so much,” Lindhart said. “I can’t even put into words how it feels to know that I’m making a difference in other people’s lives, even something as simple as greeting them with a smiling face at the food pantry.”

Lindhart encourages others to get involved.

“I think that it fills a spot in my heart that nothing else does, and I think it could do that for a lot of other students too,” she said.

Stephanie Meier, a senior elementary education major, said volunteering for the first time was a good opportunity to get involved in the community.

“I think that volunteering is a great way to get involved in the communities that I could possibly be teaching in the future,” Meier said. “This (food pantry) is something that is important to a lot of families in the community.”

Meir said it is important for the university to be involved in the surrounding communities.

“(Eastern) is pretty central to this part of Illinois and we have a lot of bodies,” she said. “I think that it is important that we use them in a way that makes a difference.”

The captain of Saturday’s event, sociology professor Michael Gillespie, said helping those in need is what drives him.

Gillespie said students would benefit from helping those in need by allowing them to experience something that could be wildly different from anything they have experienced before.

“It might seem so small and maybe so minute, but (it has) such a powerful impact,” Gillespie said. “The impact can be empowering because volunteers are able see that immediate change right away.”

Students wishing to get involved or seek additional information should contact the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism at 217-581-3967 or visit their website at www.eiu.edu/volunteer. Students wishing to volunteer can email [email protected]

Justin Brown can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]