“Everybody Can Pitch In”: CI Student Executive Brings Communities Together to Feed Hungry People
Community Impact’s partnerships within its neighborhood have been crucial to CI’s success in carrying out its mission of service. CI Student Executive Darius Grayer, SEAS ’15, who helps oversee budget records and allocations of funding for many of CI’s groups, has emerged as a natural at recruiting allies and keeping them fired up.
Darius first began working with Community Impact as an assistant in CI’s finance office, a position that provided a particular insight into the mechanics of maintaining CI’s many service programs. He approached his work with focus and enthusiasm, and as he became more involved in volunteering with CI, his experience has proven helpful in organizing and motivating volunteers.
“Looking at CI’s programs from a financial standpoint got me to think about what these groups are, and what each of them do,” said Darius. “It made me want to look into each group a lot deeper and get personally involved.”
Darius found himself especially drawn to the Community Lunch soup kitchen, whose volunteers serve up to 100 restaurant-style meals on a weekly basis in an inviting, family-friendly environment. Darius had seen firsthand how Community Lunch’s budget had been affected by the economic recession, and was inspired to bring people together to help fill the gaps and continue serving meals to those who need it most. “I wanted to work with Community Lunch in particular partly because of my familiarity with it, and because of the clear need that we saw,” he said.
His experience in CI’s office “made it easier to see and convey that every little bit helps,” he said. “Even asking individual organizations for very small donations, they were able to understand that they could come together and the kitchen will be able to use every single dime.”
“Everyone can play their part and do the best that they can to help out.”
Darius, a member of the Columbia chapter of Sigma Nu, wanted to spread that very message within the Greek community on campus. In March, Darius reached out to 11 fraternities and sororities at Columbia to collect at least of $100 from their members in support of Community Lunch’s annual Hunger Banquet, in the hopes to raise money and enthusiasm for the cause of feeding Columbia University’s food-insecure neighbors.
“I wanted to bring them together with CI and say, hey, how can we help? After sending my initial email, I had an outpouring of people saying ‘Look, we want to help. This small thing that you’re asking for, we can definitely do it and we want to help,’” he said.
For Darius, the drive to serve his community stemmed from the same values that brought the brothers of Sigma Nu together to begin with. “Greek life in general is about being a part of something bigger,” he said. “It’s about being a part of a larger collection of individuals who come together to share experiences and be there for each other.”
Bishoy Ameen, Sigma Nu’s Philanthropy Chair, is similarly driven by his fraternity’s common values and experience in service. “Our fraternity operates on three principles: love, honor, and truth,” said Bishoy. “Any service that we do revolves around the idea of loving your neighbors and your community.”
Volunteering with Community Lunch—centered at Broadway Presbyterian Church, just down the street from Columbia’s Fraternity Row—Bishoy has been struck by how his perspective has been affected by the experience. “You really develop as a person and get out of your bubble, and notice things you weren’t aware of,” said Bishoy. “If I weren’t in Sigma Nu, I wouldn’t have known there was a soup kitchen serving 50-75 homeless people every week right across the street. Right across the street from here are people much less fortunate than I am.”
Indeed, many CI volunteers’ passion for service is based on the notion of shared investment. “CI is in the business of transforming lives,” said Darius. “When you have an organization that does that, even if you don’t have the time or money to help out, there is always a way to reach across the table and help them carry out its mission. It can be the smallest thing or the largest thing.”
“We’re not dropping fifty thousand-dollar checks, but we’re doing something,” he said. “I think everybody can pitch in and do something to keep this vision going forward.”