Benefits of Service

It’s three days before the event. My Greek friends are storing 500 pounds of peanut butter and jelly, 700 plastic knives, 300 paper hats, 1,800 plastic gloves, 100 tablecloths and no tables. Hundreds of people have responded that they will be attending on Facebook, and about 20 homeless shelters are expecting anywhere from 100 to 1,000 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches in three days. And I have no tables. The Campus Reservations Office has approved McKeldin Mall, and it even got me a connection to reserve hand-washing stations for the day. But I have no tables. A speaker is coming from the National Coalition for the Homeless to talk to the 300 to 400 students I’m expecting to show up. But I have no tables. This is the first event hosted by my new student group, one with ambitious goals and — at the moment — dedicated members. And I need about 60 six-seater rectangular tables to be delivered to the mall by 10:30 a.m. in three days.

This was late last year, when I was coordinating Spread the Love, an event where students made peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the homeless. Luckily, it all worked out; I got the tables in the end. And so, on Oct. 23, about 400 students gathered on the mall at my 65 tables and made about 6,200 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for local homeless shelters. But this fiasco with the tables and various other miscommunications — late letters, begged requests and terrifying phone calls — taught me how hard organizing is at this university. It also taught me how merciful, wonderful and helpful people are when they like your idea. After the event, I’d often repeat the phrase, “I push 5 percent, and the rest of the world pushes 95.” Organizing on this scale taught me two important things about people: They want to help, and they’re good by nature.

Originally, Spread the Love started as a shared idea with a few friends. We envisioned this event as one of a series hosted by our ambitious student group, The Love Movement. We wanted to begin a social movement that would involve the greater university community in large-scale philanthropic events that create a coalition of co-sponsors. This group now exists and regularly hosts events like Spread the Love. We decided that this event would be our first of the semester. I wanted the experience as a leader and an organizer, and I felt particularly attached to this idea, so I chose to be the coordinator.

But really, the most important thing I’ve learned is that action makes me feel good. Everyone should get to experience that type of organizational leadership in a philanthropic group. It was the most satisfying thing I’ve done as an activist or as someone who considers himself a good person. I think this has been a defining moment for me, and I feel great about myself now. And of course, the whole point is that I want to share that feeling with you.

Joe Hammer is a junior English and government and politics major. He can be reached at jhammer1 at umd dot edu. This column was originally submitted to the Leadership and Community Service-Learning Office’s Spirit of Service essay contest in December. The Diamondback will be publishing the winning columns every Friday during the month of February.

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