CALDWELL, NJ — More than 200 faculty, staff and students took part in Caldwell Service Day on Sept. 23, volunteering to help out nonprofit and community organizations. Caldwell University classes were canceled for the annual event, which was first held in 2009.
The Student Center gym was filled with enthusiasm as volunteers packaged 17,064 meals for Rise Against Hunger, an organization that serves medical clinics, vocational training programs, schools and elderly care facilities around the world. Each box contained enough ingredients for a child to have a meal in school each day for a year.
“It might be one day of joy for us but it is a year of food preparation for every person who receives the packages. I pray that whoever receives the package can feel that joy. And I pray that they never go hungry,” said Andrei St. Felix, director of the university’s Educational Opportunity Fund program.
Sophomore Ted Saintil said it would have been easy to stay in bed when classes were canceled but instead he got himself up to take part in his first service day. He joined other volunteers in addressing postcards for the Center for Common Ground, part of Reclaim Our Vote, a nonpartisan voting rights initiative aimed at reaching underrepresented voters.
“I don’t know the impact I had but I probably will reach someone who was not considering voting and will consider voting,” Saintil said. “It felt great.”
Senior Raul Gonzalez, president of the Student Government Association, also volunteered with the postcard project. He said it provided a good opportunity to reflect on how, as young people, students can begin to make slight changes by starting conversations with others.
Robin Davenport, executive director of the Counseling Center, helped with cleanup for the Grover Cleveland Park in Caldwell.
“People were very grateful that we wanted to beautify the park,” Davenport said.
Leandro Gonzalez, coordinator of international student services, and Matt Netter, manager of digital content and communications, put on waders and helped pull cattails out of the pond at Grover Cleveland Park.
“I smell horrible but feel fulfilled,” Gonzalez said while volunteering.
The day was organized by the university’s Student Life staff, including Tim Kessler-Cleary, assistant dean for student engagement and retention, and Christina Bryant, director of campus ministry. Kessler-Cleary reminded the participants that the Dominican pillars are service, community, prayer and study, and that they had lived out service and community in their volunteerism that morning. He encouraged them to continue to reflect on how they can spread those pillars in their environments of school, work and community.
Jose Rodriguez, interim associate vice president for student life and dean of students, said he was struck by how wonderful it was for faculty, staff and students from different backgrounds to pause, and come together for something as important as reaching out to help others.
“Our differences are our commonalities,” he said. “What we are saying is not just in words but (also) in deeds.”
Other community service projects included: volunteering at the Community FoodBank of NJ warehouse; weeding and cleaning up the garden at Kingsland Manor in Nutley; volunteering on campus with the facilities department to organize a campus cleanup; assisting the university’s Health Services Department with administrative work; and organizing donated items for Midnight Run, which is dedicated to forging relationships between the housed and the homeless. Students and staff make trips to New York City for Midnight Run during the academic year.
Photos Courtesy of Caldwell University