(opinions) Community Service

Finally, we can say goodbye to 2020. During the winter break, I had time to reflect upon this past year. I graduated high school, became closer with my family, spent more time outdoors and started my first year of college. Although I was proud of all that I accomplished, I couldn’t help but think of the things I didn’t do. While I drowned my sorrows in endless Netflix marathons and loaves of banana bread, there were people out making a difference in the world. Looking back, I wish I had done more during this time when so many communities are struggling nationwide. 

John Stramiello, the director of Micah’s Backpack, described how one local organization has supported the Blacksburg community not only through these difficult times, but for the past 13 years. 

“Micah’s Backpack was founded in 2008 to fill a need in Blacksburg concerning students who were experiencing food insecurity,” Stramielle said. “It started with feeding five children at one school and has grown to feed more than 300 children at 10 schools in Blacksburg. The reason it has grown is because there is a definite need for those who are suffering from food insecurity.” 

Micah’s Backpack is a part of a larger initiative known as Micah’s Caring Initiative which tackles many other issues in the Blacksburg community. Outside of providing meals to students in need, the larger initiative gives students access to a garden where they can eat the produce they grow; they also supply clothing to students in need and distribute meals to senior living centers. 

Stramiello underscored some of the most important concerns facing the Blacksburg community now because of the pandemic.

“A lot of people are out of work because of the closing of restaurants and stores, which has really increased all of the needs: rent, electricity, food. People are scampering to try to save their families because of this pandemic,” Stramiello said.

The pandemic has put a strain on many communities nationwide, causing poverty rates and food insecurity rates to rise. Some businesses have been forced to close entirely, while the luckier ones have managed to stay afloat in spite of the new capacity limitations; either way, these changes have left workers unable to provide for themselves and their families. It is one thing to hear about these issues in national headlines, but it hits even closer to home when your own community is affected. 

“On the negative side, the pandemic has not only increased need, but has prevented Micah’s Backpack from allowing many people to volunteer,” Stramiello said.

Because organizations must now account for social distancing guidelines, there have been restrictions on how many people can volunteer at one time. However, this hasn’t stopped Micah’s Backpack from fulfilling its initiative. 

“Since the pandemic, we have had a large increase in individuals and groups hosting fundraisers and food drives. Because of these efforts, Micah’s Backpack has seen an increase in food donations of over 120%,” Stramiello said. 

This goes to show that a positive impact can still be made even in the most trying of circumstances. It is easy to dismiss doing something because you don’t think it will make a difference. I am guilty of the same belief. However, if I have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that even the smallest act of service can have a much greater impact. 

“Supporting the surrounding community truly helps to ensure a healthy community,” Stramiello said. “In order for a community to grow, be successful and healthy, those in the community who need assistance should be a priority. Helping the community is beneficial to everyone who exists in the community.” 

Although it is a new year, the issues of 2020 persist. The pandemic continues and there are still many people in need who face unemployment, food insecurity and homelessness — to name a few of the more prominent social concerns. Now more than ever, communities are relying on their members for support. In order to evolve and grow as a society, it is essential to give back to those in need. If we want to create a better world for everyone, we should value and emphasize the importance of community service. 

“The most important thing is to find that place that fits you and your passion,” Stramiello said. “Do this and I guarantee you will carry it with you throughout your life.”