More than 70 Redbirds teamed up to make a difference in Bloomington-Normal—one scoop of cereal, one bag of pasta, and one bookbag of school supplies at a time—during Illinois State University’s fourth #RedbirdImpact Day of Service, Saturday, June 11.
A record number of alumni, family members, and faculty and staff participated in the day of service which included volunteer opportunities with Midwest Food Bank, the Back 2 School Alliance, and the School Street Food Pantry. Participants were also invited to the #RedbirdImpact lunch and a celebratory social hour at Pub II.
“Four years ago, we created the concept of an on-campus service day to give our alumni an opportunity to directly give back to the community and support ISU’s pillar of civic engagement,” said Senior Director for Alumni Engagement Stephanie Duquenne ’04, M.S. ’15. “I’m absolutely thrilled—this is the highest amount of participation that we’ve had since the start of #RedbirdImpact Weekend. It shows that our Redbirds want to give back and help our community partners.”
Mandy Phillips ’00 has volunteered with her high school-aged daughter, Anna Phillips, during all four years of #RedbirdImpact events. They were among more than 40 volunteers who spent Saturday morning at Midwest Food Bank repackaging a bulk donation of Apple Jacks cereal into single servings for local K-12 students to bring home for weekend breakfast.
“I’m giving back during #RedbirdImpact because I feel like ISU gave so much to me,” Mandy Phillips said. “One person can make a difference, but when you’re working with a bunch of people, the impact is magnified that much more.”
Anna Phillips will be a junior at Normal West High School and plans to attend Illinois State. She said volunteering is “really fun,” particularly when she is surrounded by Redbird alumni working toward a common goal. “It’s nice to see people who are dedicated—knowing that I might be like them in the future,” Phillips said.
Jasmine Buckner ’11, an office manager for the College of Applied Science and Technology, brought her two daughters and son to Saturday morning’s service event at Midwest Food Bank. “We’ve been blessed with a lot of things, and I want to be able to bless other people,” Buckner said. “And I want to instill that in my children when they’re young.”
Buckner’s 6-year-old daughter, Jalyn Buckner, smiled and laughed with fellow volunteers while sticking labels on freshly filled bags of Apple Jacks. “Look how happy my daughter is,” Jasmine Buckner said. “I think she’s made a lot of friends.”
One of Jaylyn Buckner’s new friends at the Apple Jacks label table was Dave Templeton ’67. “I’ve been in service organizations throughout my working life, and I just thought this was one thing I could do for ISU and for Midwest Food Bank,” Templeton said between applying labels and chatting with Buckner.
Dr. Annie Weaver, Ed.D. ’21, the assistant director for cocurricular programs in the Center for Civic Engagement and an organizer of the #RedbirdImpact Day of Service said building human connections is an “awesome” benefit of service activities. “Nobody’s on their phones. They’re sitting across the table from each other working together,” Weaver said. “They’re talking and connecting. And so, it’s just an amazing way to make connections.”
While some Redbird volunteers at Midwest Foodbank repackaged cereal, others filled bags with meal-sized portions of pasta. Mike Matejka ’74, a member of the pasta packaging team, said impactful community service is a longstanding part of Illinois State’s tradition.
“When you do something like this, you see mounds of pasta and mounds of cereal,” Matejka said. “But when you seal that bag—that’s dinner for a family; that’s breakfast for a kid who may not otherwise get breakfast. When you take a big operation and personalize where it goes, then you realize the impact.”
After completing their work at Midwest Food Bank, Redbirds continued volunteering in the afternoon at the School Street Food Pantry and by preparing school supplies for Back 2 School Alliance backpacks.
“We believe that every Illinois State student can become what we call an ‘active citizen’ who’s an active participant in their community. That extends to our alumni as well,” Weaver said. “This is a way for alumni to get introduced to some of the many amazing community partners that we have, and hopefully, they find their passion—an issue that they care about, and they see that they can get involved and make a difference.”
During #RedbirdImpact Month, Duquenne said the University has challenged its alumni to complete 250 hours of community service in June. Through the #RedbirdImpact Day of Service in Normal along with several regional alumni volunteer events, Duquenne said more than 220 hours of service have already been tracked, and there are still opportunities for alumni to participate either through individual volunteer work or through remaining regional events. Alumni are also encouraged to make an impact by supporting student scholarships.
“Take some time to give back in any way you feel you are able this month and all year long,” Duquenne said. “Making an impact doesn’t stop in June. Your service is valued all year long.”
Alumni can log their volunteer hours or make an impactful gift through the #RedbirdImpact Month website.