Record number of students participate in annual Back the Bend Community Service Day // The Observer

This weekend, more than 700 students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross spent their Saturday morning volunteering at local South Bend organizations for the annual Back the Bend Community Service Day.

Back the Bend is organized by the Notre Dame Student Government and this year they sent student volunteers to 19 community organizations, including the Robinson Community Learning Centerthe South Bend Bike Storagethe City of South Bend, Downtown South Bend, the Notre Dame Center for Civic Innovation and Unity Gardens.

This was Back the Bend’s twelfth year. This started in 2009 as “Community Day”, but was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Cause Back the Bend is the last took place in 2019co-organizers Erica Maggelet, outgoing student government director for community engagement and outreach, and Mary Elizabeth Stern, outgoing student government director for faith and service, said they are focusing heavily on marketing and l education of students about the event.

Stern said a record number of volunteers participated this year.

“The record for the last 10 years was 600 volunteers, and this year we broke that record of 100,” she said. “It’s truly amazing…we took a two-year hiatus due to COVID, and it was so wonderful to see the students so excited to get back to engaging with the community and really reconnect with South Bend. »

The volunteers started their day at 9:30 am at the Robinson Center where they enjoyed Einstein’s bagels and coffee before heading to the various community organizations. The students returned to the Robinson Center just before 2 p.m. for free tacos from the Junbuggies food truck.

Sara Stewart, Executive Director and Founder of Unity Gardens, said she greatly appreciated the help and enthusiasm of the volunteers. She described Unity Gardens as a “model of dignified free food and an edible park” where people of all socio-economic backgrounds can pick fresh fruits and vegetables for free.

Students at three campuses help create mulch paths in the South Bend unit gardens to prevent weed growth. More than 150 students volunteered at the garden as part of Saturday’s Back the Bend Day of Service.

In addition to other projects, Saturday’s volunteers helped pave the garden’s “wheelchair garden” accessible path and created mulch paths to prevent weed growth and frame the garden.

“They turned winter into spring for us,” Stewart said. “Every year it seems like there’s more work being done and more efficiency.”

She said more than 150 Back the Bend volunteers helped out in the garden on Saturday.

“We’ve never had so many people,” she said. “Everyone I met was super enthusiastic…they asked questions every time they saw me. They want to know more about it all and how to stay involved.

Stern and Maggelet spent Saturday visiting each of the different community sites — including Unity Gardens — and checking in with the organizations’ volunteers and leaders about the experience. Maggelet said many organizational leaders and community members echo similar sentiments to Stewart.

“The community partners were really happy to have so many volunteers. Many of them didn’t even set a limit on the number of people they could have on their sites,” Maggelet said. “It was really fun to see the scale of this event and everyone working together.”

She said she also received positive feedback from students, which was really gratifying after planning Back the Bend for five months.

“I got a couple of emails … thanking us for hosting the event saying people made good friends and had fun on their sites,” she said.

Stern added that she was excited to see the future of Back the Bend after seeing how well the event had “bounced back” post-pandemic.

“We didn’t know how the students would react to it,” she said. “So to see their enthusiasm for the day and their dedication to showing up and helping out was super, super inspiring.”

Tags: back the bend, City of South Bend, Community Service, Notre Dame Student Government, Robinson Community Learning Center, South Bend, unity garden, volunteering

Jill E. Washington