Christine Quackenbush loves it when Chet Tourville is the chef on duty at the Salvation Army, and she was in luck Saturday morning, as Tourville prepared a meal of chicken, green beans and melon with the help of a few sous chef volunteers.
A group of seven, including four UW-L students and Western Technical College’s newly inducted seventh president, Roger Stanford, were at the Salvation Army from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., prepping veggies and serving trays as part of Make a Difference Day, a nationwide endeavor and local collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Viterbo University and Western students and staff.
More than 120 volunteers — up from 75 last year — dispersed to their choice of a dozen locations, including the Coulee Region Humane Society, Children’s Museum of La Crosse and Kane Street Community Garden, signing up through U Get Connected, a web service facilitated by the United Way.
“The (organizations) are very thankful and appreciative,” said Carly Juzwik, a UW-L senior, Make a Difference Day coordinator and program adviser for UW-L’s COVE, the Center for Organizations, Vision, and Engagement. “A lot them don’t have the resources and finances to pay people ... for the three hours of volunteer work (at all the locations) we’re saving the community $8,000 in wages.”
Tourville, weekend shelter manager for the Salvation Army, says the facility relies heavily on volunteers to support the one to two employees on meal service, noting a sizable portion of its volunteer roster is composed of students. The Salvation Army has hosted Make a Difference day participants for the past five years.
“What’s great about this event is it brings all three colleges together,” said Keri Reyburn, community engagement coordinator for Western, who started her day in the Salvation Army kitchen. “I feel like college students these last few years have found the importance of volunteering. They feel like La Crosse is their community, too, and they want to contribute to it.”
UW-L sophomores and EPA Honor Society members Lindsey Meyers and Lindsay Schmitz selected the Salvation Army, having done prior volunteer meal service in missionary work and shelters in their hometowns. In addition to fixing lunch with ingredients donated by Festival Foods, the students helped with cleaning and dishes.
“It’s cool to see how the community really does come together in one interaction,” said Schmitz, herself a Festival employee. “We talked to one lady (waiting for lunch) who just got a job at UW-L.”
“I think the community provides so much for students,” Meyers added. “It helps shape who we are, and it’s important to help out.”
Stanford said Western has made a commitment to service over the past year. A full day of volunteering for every employee is built into their schedules, which creates a trickle-down effect to the students. Stanford led by example, bringing his son and his son’s girlfriend to help cook for the estimated 70 to 100 people expected to be served Saturday.
“It’s just an incredible need,” Stanford said. “It’s an endless need. It’s daily.”
“If (the Salvation Army) didn’t exist, where would these people get food?” Reyburn said.
Quackenbush appreciates the meals include portions from each of the basic food groups and herself helps set out bread and dessert for her fellow diners.
“I can’t afford produce,” Quackenbush said. “And the sweets they have are just a treat, a nice treat.”
Margie Meier, who says the Salvation Army helped her when she was homeless, now volunteers herself on weekends and was thrilled to see students behind the counter.
“I think it’s great they are seeing the kind of need there is,” Meier said. “If I had to volunteer anywhere it would be here or WAFER.”
For more information on local volunteer opportunities, visit UGetConnected.org.