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January 19, 2018

UMass students help collect donations for local shelters

William Perkins III/Collegian

The group of four fraternity members knocked on a door at a residence on Cortland Drive in South Amherst yesterday afternoon – clutching yellow envelopes and holding brochures that they were readying to present if someone were to open up.

The four – David Letters, Rahul Garg, Mike Ciolek and Colin Donoghue – had a reason for being at the home: to try to see if they could collect money to benefit local organizations that help the needy and homeless.

And the man who soon greeted them at the door, Ed Westhead, had a reason for dropping off a donation, too.

“It’s a good thing,” said Westhead, who’s lived at his house on the road for about 10 years, of the students’ efforts as he gave his contribution. “People need help.”

Letters, Garg, Ciolek, Donoghue and some 300 other students and community members canvassed areas throughout Amherst yesterday as part of Shelter Sunday, an annual event organized by the Amherst Friends for the Homeless, Inc. – a non-profit group that raises money for Amherst – and Northampton-based organizations that provide shelter and supplies to those who are homeless or are in need in the area.

“The primary thing this does is financially support agencies that support the hungry in our area,” said Arnie Alper, the treasurer of the Amherst Friends for the Homeless, Inc. “It raises awareness in our communities that there are those needs in the area.”

Now in its 23rd year, the event relies heavily on the support of student volunteers, Alper noted.

“It definitely would not happen without the students on this scale,” said Alper.

Organizers used the lobby of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts yesterday as their makeshift base for the canvassing effort, where they gave out brochures, collection envelopes, drop-off envelopes and route maps to participants – many of whom were from UMass sororities or fraternities or were part of the Boltwood Project, a community service initiative offered for students in conjunction with a class at UMass. The participants – who were, for the most part, place in groups of five – then traveled to their assigned sectors and solicited for contributions at homes and residences.

For Letters, Garg, Ciolek and Donoghue – who dotted up Station Road and Cortland Drive in the southern tier of the town – the canvassing endeavors served as a way to underscore the importance of community service activities and efforts to aid those in need.

“I think it’s a very important event,” said Garg, a senior finance major who’s the philanthropy chair for the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity and the vice president for community service for the UMass Interfraternity Council. “It does a lot for a lot of people.”

The activity, Letters added, also fit well with his fraternity’s mission.

“We lend a helping hand,” said Letters, a senior journalism and sociology double major who’s the philanthropy chair of the Theta Chi Fraternity. “We work with community organizations … we are always willing to offer our services.”

He along with Garg, Ciolek – a pledging member and the philanthropy chair of the pledge class for the Theta Chi Fraternity – and Donoghue, a Theta Chi brother, walked the route for about an hour and a half yesterday under bright skies on an early autumn afternoon, splitting up for most of the time so they could canvass at more houses at a quicker rate.

At some of the houses, people passed on contributing funds to the effort. At others, the doors weren’t answered – and the fraternity members left envelopes outside with information about how they homeowners could still donate to the efforts. And at some, residents already had their contributions ready and seemingly awaited for the arrival of the volunteers.

“The people that answered the doors answered with a checkbook in hand,” said Letters while walking along Station Road after completing the bulk of the canvassing. “They’re thanking me for doing this.”

The money raised by all of the volunteers yesterday will be totaled later this week, according to Stephanie O’Keeffe, one of the organizing volunteers of the Shelter Sunday who’s also the chairwoman of the Amherst Select Board.

And the total amount of money collected by both the volunteers yesterday and mailed in through donations will be counted by the Amherst Friends for the Homeless by the end of the year, Alper said.

“Now, we get the majority of the money after,” said Alper, who noted that many people turn in the envelopes that the volunteers drop-off.

Last year, he said, the organization raised over $34,000 from Shelter Sunday collections.

The money raised this year will go to support the Amherst Survival Center, which provides food and other necessities to the needy in the area; the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen service; the Hampshire County Interfaith Shelter; Safe Passage, which provides crisis intervention services; and the Grove Street Inn, a homeless shelter in Northampton.

The cost for printing and postage supplies, Alper said, was covered by the Florence Savings Bank. And those participating yesterday were given gift certificates to Bueno y Sano and the group that collects the most money will be awarded a giant cake.

“The agencies are only able to exist with community support,” said Alper. “They depend on the community to support them.”

William Perkins can be reached at wperkins@student.umass.edu.

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