UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO BIG EVENT

Students get up early to pitch in for cleaner city

1,400 help pick up trash, plant community gardens

3/25/2013
BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
From left, University of Toledo students Jahziel Soriano, Eric Norvell, and Ibrahim Shafau dump collected trash into a can at Ottawa Park.
From left, University of Toledo students Jahziel Soriano, Eric Norvell, and Ibrahim Shafau dump collected trash into a can at Ottawa Park.

Ask most college students how they’d prefer to spend a Saturday morning, and most likely will cite sleeping as No. 1.

But as 50 Sigma Phi Epsilon members scoured nooks and crannies of the Warehouse District for trash to collect Saturday morning, no one was complaining about doing a dirty job for free instead of lounging the day away.

“It feels good to wake up early and help the community,” said Dan Janek, a UT student and fraternity member from Centerville, Ohio.

Saturday was the 2013 University of Toledo Big Event, an annual one-day community service project. The idea started at Texas A&M University and spread to UT in 2001, Big Event operations director Lindsey Hahn said.

The event lost steam locally but was reborn in 2009 and has since grown greatly, said Ms. Hahn, a UT junior from Youngstown. There were about 100 participating students in 2010, 500 in 2011, and 1,100 last year, and about 1,400 were expected to volunteer Saturday, event organizers said.

The day has become so popular for student groups that the Big Event itself has become its own student group, formed this year.

It’s hard to put a dollar figure on volunteer work, but Big Event organizers estimated the students’ services would be worth about $120,000. Students fanned out across the city at dozens of sites. There were volunteers at the Cherry Street Mission, the Lutheran Home of Toledo, at parks and gardens, at churches and homes.

Some worked independently, while others were assigned to assist organizations. Students from Campus Crusade for Christ, a nondenominational Christian organization, were paired with Toledo GROWs at multiple gardens.

Macey Coleman, a junior nursing student from Dayton, helped prepare raised garden beds in the Manos Community Garden in UpTown, where residents use the plots to grow their own food.

University of Toledo student Daija Thomas looks for trash at Ottawa Park during UT's annual Big Event.
University of Toledo student Daija Thomas looks for trash at Ottawa Park during UT's annual Big Event.

College students can sometimes view their school’s city as a temporary pit stop. Volunteering in neighborhoods isn’t just a way to give back, but it also helps connect students to Toledo.

“This gets you involved in your city,” Ms. Coleman said.

Toledo GROWs volunteer Courtney Billian, a former employee of the organization, said the student help was greatly appreciated, especially because funding for organizations such as Toledo GROWs has dwindled in recent years. Ms. Billian oversaw the development of the garden project, which is on land donated by businessman Manos Paschalis.

“It’s awesome to have groups [such as the UT students] to be able to help in our initiative,” she said.

Bridget Townley, a board member of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, shared a similar sentiment. The association normally holds a spring cleanup of the district before the Toledo Mud Hens’ season starts. This year, UT students — and a group from Notre Dame Academy — helped clean up the streets, curbs, and lots. Local businesses gave students complimentary food as thanks.

For some of the students, the event was either a first trip or a reintroduction to downtown Toledo.

University of Toledo student Amber Froggatt, 21, picks up trash at UT's Carter Field during the Big Event.
University of Toledo student Amber Froggatt, 21, picks up trash at UT's Carter Field during the Big Event.

“This place has really grown,” Ms. Townley said several students told her about the Warehouse District.

While the Big Event can serve as a link between student and city, its main focus is the spirit of giving. Dan Arendt, a freshman Sig Ep member from Buffalo, said that as college students, they owe the community, especially because the university is subsidized by tax dollars. A Saturday morning spent cleaning up trash isn’t too much to ask.

“Being a college student, we’ve already been given so many gifts,” he said. “We should be able to spend a Saturday giving back.”

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.