By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
The social activist and civil rights pioneer encouraged people to work together to build a better future for everyone.
That message was at the heart of Friday’s event on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. UNK students, faculty and staff were invited to take part in an MLK Day of Service that celebrated King’s legacy and positively impacted the community.
“When I think about Dr. King and his life, I’m reminded of someone who gave of himself. He gave his time and energy and made the ultimate sacrifice so our country would be a better place,” said Dean of Student Affairs Gilbert Hinga.
The MLK Day of Service – held 11 days after the federal holiday because of UNK’s extended winter break – encouraged students and employees to follow this example by creating care packages for people in need.
It was a simple, yet meaningful, way for freshman Jackie Hinze to give back. The biology major from McCook put together two care packages inside the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room.
“This is going to make somebody’s day a lot better,” said Hinze, who believes a service project like this can help bring people together.
There’s no invisible border between campus and the larger community, she said. “It’s just Kearney. That’s who we are.”
A total of 125 students and employees participated in the UNK event, creating 350 care packages that will be delivered next week to Crossroads Mission Avenue and Kearney Jubilee Center. Each package contains bottled water, socks and a variety of hygiene products.
Buff City Soap of Kearney provided 500 bars of soap, and the other donations came from UNK Fraternity and Sorority Life and Loper Pantry. UNK’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Student and Family Transitions sponsored the event along with Fraternity and Sorority Life.
Adrian Almeida of Columbus, a Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity member who also works in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, spent a few hours at the MLK Day of Service. He was happy to see all the support from UNK students, especially on a Friday.
“We want to give back to the community because this community gives so much to us,” said Almeida, a junior studying business administration. “It’s a good feeling knowing you have done something positive.”
Their voluntarism will have a big impact, according to Cheri Clark, director of Kearney Jubilee Center. The local nonprofit has seen “a lot of need” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last 10 months have just been heartbreaking,” she said. “This continues to be a hard time.”
Kearney Jubilee Center operates a thrift store and food pantry and provides a range of supportive services, including rental, utility and medication assistance. The nonprofit has a longstanding partnership with UNK through Loper Pantry, the annual homecoming canned food drive and other service projects.
“I appreciate that the university is here and I hope we continue to grow those connections,” Clark said.
Daniel Buller, executive director of Crossroads Mission Avenue, is equally grateful.
“Crossroads is a community-based organization and we can’t do what we do without other people getting involved,” he said. “When UNK brings those care packages, that means a lot to us, because it takes a community to get through crises.”
Like Jubilee Center, Crossroads is also seeing an increased demand for services during the pandemic. The organization operates thrift stores and homeless shelters in Kearney, Grand Island and Hastings and provides a recovery program for residents. Nearly 40 people were staying at the Kearney shelter on Friday.
“And that number seems to be increasing,” Buller said.
Hinga, the dean of student affairs, hopes the MLK Day of Service turns into an annual event at UNK.
“When everyone in the community is doing well, it’s better for all of us,” he said. “And when one of us in the community is not doing as well, then we ought to feel their pain.”