Sept. 19, 2008

Students help staff double Cornell's Day of Caring contributions

More than 10,000 pounds of food and personal care items were collected during the Sept. 11 Stephen E. Garner Day of Caring, sponsored by the United Way of Tompkins County.

The donations, which exceeded past years' contributions by 50 percent, filled more than 200 large banana boxes and were distributed to 17 local food pantries and community agencies. Organizers estimate that the Cornell community contributed 40 percent of donations to the county's sixth annual drive, headquartered at Ithaca's Stewart Park.

Cornell volunteers in more than 80 buildings throughout campus were involved in the effort. "It's important to remind people of the need out there," said Pam Gillow, a building coordinator in biotechnology, who has been volunteering for the Day of Caring drive for three years. She set out collection boxes, put up posters and fired off e-mail reminders to colleagues. Faculty, staff and students in biotechnology responded by contributing four large boxes of food and personal care items.

Barb Pennypacker, human resources manager, Gannett Health Services, and organizer for the Day of Caring drive at the facility, agreed, "Caring for the community goes beyond health care services."

Contributing greatly to the success of this year's drive was the first-ever Cornell Greek Week Can Drive, a friendly competition among 12 teams comprised of several Cornell fraternity and sorority chapters, who vied to donate the largest number of cans of food. Cornell Greek community leaders, including Alison Ewing, Jason Georges, Jessica Kwon and Jason Shapiro, organized the drive.

"I am really inspired by the fraternity and sorority involvement in this year's Day of Caring," said Greg Schvey, president of the Interfraternity Council and a Cornell United Way Campaign Cabinet member. "All together, the Greek community donated about 3,000 cans -- with almost 1,200 of them coming from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity alone."

"Cornell students are known for being competitors, and applying that drive this year to a philanthropic goal resulted in a great outcome," explained Ewing. "It's important for the Cornell Greek community to give back to the Ithaca community."

"One bonus of my job is to work with some top-flight students on United Way-related initiatives," said Gary Stewart, assistant director of community relations at Cornell and also a member of the Cornell United Way Campaign Cabinet. "Their creativity, energy and deep compassion for the community that's home to them for just a few years is inspiring, So, too, is the growing awareness of folks in town on what these students are doing for the benefit of the United Way. It's unprecedented."

"Cornell students have made remarkable contributions to the community through United Way," said James Brown, president of United Way of Tompkins County. "From funding three stipends so local high school students can participate in summer service projects to their significant Day of Caring food donations, Cornell students have set a high bar for campus engagement in making a difference. My United Way colleagues around New York state, and even nationally, view Cornell students as models for connecting campus and community initiatives." Schvey added, "Increasingly, students at Cornell see the value of helping the larger community and are stepping up to that challenge."

During the brief noontime program at Ithaca's Stewart Park, United Way of Tompkins County launched the 2008 campaign and announced its goal of $2.065 million, a 3.25 percent increase over last year's goal of $2 million. Historically, the university community's contributions comprise about 40 percent of the county goal.

"Hunger is just one of the many critical needs in our community that the United Way helps meet," said Joanne DeStefano, vice president of finance and 2008 Cornell United Way Campaign chair. "Cornell's goal for the United Way campaign this year is $740,000, and we're looking for everyone's help to get there. Pledge cards will be mailed out at the end of the month."

Dennis Stein is editor of Pawprint.