New Mexico State University's Department of Housing and Campus Life is committed to serving the Las Cruces community - so much so that they have decided to partner with the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope for a year's worth of volunteer projects.
"We wanted to provide our residents the opportunity to give back to the community," said Jacqueline Rivers, associate director of Housing and Campus Life. "We wanted to add a service component to our departmental programming, and because we're a housing organization, we thought that it would be a good fit to do a community service project for the homeless."
In addition to other planned weekly and monthly activities, the group is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign, in conjunction with Sodexo Campus Dining, to provide pies to be distributed to the hungry in the area by Casa de Peregrinos, the food pantry at the Community of Hope, for the holidays. Pies can be sponsored for $5 each; to donate to the cause, stop by the Housing and Campus Life office in Corbett Center Student Union, Suite 230, by Thursday, Nov. 21. Sodexo will partner with Housing to provide the pies and subsidize a portion of the cost.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Shannon Heinritz, a resident director at Chamisa Village, and two Housing student staff members, David Schwartz and Matthew Salazar, were at Casa de Peregrinos sorting bread, potatoes and eggs into family-size portions.
"Housing decided to do a service initiative this year and the Community of Hope has a lot of different areas we can impact," Heinritz said. "The food pantry is one area that we as a department selected to volunteer at on a regular basis. We're also doing other things for the other organizations here, but this is something we can come do, hands-on, every single week."
Rivers said that she has received positive feedback from the students about the volunteer opportunities extended to them because of the yearlong project. Many have volunteered before they came to NMSU, but some are experiencing volunteerism for the first time.
Lorenzo Alba, executive director of Casa de Peregrinos, said volunteers are an integral part of his organization, which has a far-reaching impact in southern New Mexico.
"Lately, we're assisting between 950 to 1,100 families in Las Cruces with food; if we tack on the rural food pantries, it's an additional 1,200 to 1,300 families per month," Alba said.
Housing and Campus Life held a canned food drive competition among the different residential buildings on campus in September, and did a winter gear drive in October. Other planned activities for the year include a holiday card sale to benefit Jardin de los Ninos, and an alternative spring break project at Camp Hope.
"We always have something to do, whether it's packing food, stocking the pantry, doing a deep clean of the pantry, cleaning our walk-ins or cleaning around the facility," Alba said. "We've had some church groups that will do three months of volunteer work, or a 10-week project, and they'll have quite a few people come, but doing a whole year project like this is unprecedented here. So far, it's been a big success."
"I think it's really awesome that our department selected Community of Hope as our initiative, because it's phenomenal to see the impact we can make within our community - something we can put our hands on right here in the city and see the difference it makes," Heinritz said.
Both Schwartz and Salazar learned of the volunteer opportunities through staff meetings and decided to sign up.
"I was pretty excited about it because I enjoy volunteering," Schwartz said. "The best way to end up in a good mood is to try to help other people. You definitely learn something about yourself, too."
"The university is really engaged in what we're doing here," Alba said. "That's important. Financially, they may not be able to help us, but the students - they have really made an impact on what Casa de Peregrinos is doing."
Rivers said she hopes this project will allow students to experience the joy of volunteerism, and that many will seek out opportunities to give back in the future.
If you would like to volunteer at Casa de Peregrinos or donate food, contact 575-523-5542, or visit Casa de Peregrinos between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday.
To learn more about NMSU Housing and Campus Life volunteer activities contact Julie Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org