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Gratitude in Giving

Students volunteer to help others during Montclair’s Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Posted in: Homepage News, University

Four students fill care package bags.
Student volunteers fill bags with socks, toiletries and other items to be donated to people in Paterson.

Montclair students, led by the Center for Student Involvement and Greek organizations, volunteered by collecting canned goods and clothing donations and assembling hygiene care packages and making sandwiches for those less fortunate as part of Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. Many events were held at the Student Center and across campus as well as off-site as part of the University’s role as a public-serving institution.

The week also was dedicated to informing students about resources available to them on campus. Coordinators with Rocky’s Closet, the Red Hawk Food Pantry, the Office of Health Promotion and other campus offices and organizations were tabling, handing out flyers and freebies. The event was sponsored by the Center for Student Involvement, Office for Social Justice and Diversity and numerous Greek organizations.

“This is to help bring awareness about the issues of hunger and homelessness, both within our community and within the world,” says Katherine Culp, volunteer coordinator with the Center for Student Involvement. “We have a lot of different resources that sometimes students don’t realize we have and that are good points of contact for them to be able to fulfill their basic needs.

“Many students don’t realize that they can get food resources or that they can apply for SNAP benefits or learn about our Swipe Out Hunger program on campus,” Culp adds. Swipe Out Hunger is a nationwide program that partners with colleges to help put an end to student hunger and assist students who struggle with food insecurity. It allows students, faculty and staff to donate meals.

“If they’re fortunate enough to just help out and donate things, they’re also welcome to do that,” Culp says.

Among those who did just that were first-time volunteers Sydney Huttemann, a junior studying Fashion Design and Merchandising; Iyoni Tillman, a junior Film and Television major; Nicholas Chong, a sophomore Communications major; and Lya Castano, a freshman Biology major. The foursome colored and decorated donation bags and then filled them with socks and gloves, toiletry items and more.

Huttemann said she saw the announcement about Pack to Give Back on the Volunteer Center’s Instagram account and decided to attend. “I haven’t volunteered before,” she says. “I’m really fortunate enough to be here, so giving back to the community is really important.”

Two female students sit at a table and draw and color on paper bags.
First-time volunteers Sydney Huttemann and Lya Castano decorate bags to be filled with donated products as part of a volunteer project.

That sentiment was echoed by Castano, who learned about the opportunity on a volunteer app. “I have the privilege to be able to help people in need who may not be able to buy some of the things we’re giving them, especially this time of year, like winter gloves and socks.”

Tillman, who found out about the event on Montclair’s Engage site, says: “Helping is always a good cause and good thing to do.”

Chong says, “Doing these activities feels like I’m helping others.”

The hygiene bags filled by the students will be delivered to Give Thanks & Give Back, Inc., (GTBG) in Paterson.

GTGB will be distributing hot Thanksgiving dinners to go, turkeys and more, says Elsa Cabrera, a Paterson entrepreneur and founder of the nonprofit organization. She is grateful to have partnered with Montclair this year and for the hygiene packages. “It’s phenomenal, and it’s a blessing,” she says. “I hope this partnership is forever because the more that we have the more we can help our community.”

Two women check hygiene packages.
Center for Student Involvement Volunteer Coordinator Katharine Culp, left, and Karen Gillen, an assistant director of Residence Life, check the bags filled with items for people in Paterson.

A day earlier, Navrose Bajwa and Meet Sanariya were tabling in the same ballroom where students were packing bags, eager to share information about Rocky’s Closet and the Red Hawk Pantry, respectively, with anyone who approached.

“We provide free professional clothing for Montclair State University students and have a range of items, from blazers, dresses, shirts, jackets, coats, anything that you would need for your internship or job interviews,” says Bajwa, a graduate student in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and graduate coordinator with the Office for Social Justice and Diversity. She explains that students can make an appointment to visit Rocky’s Closet at Alice Paul Hall in the Village, by sending an email to Established in 2017, Rocky’s Closet has clothing in many sizes and a fitting area for students to try on the clothing. Most of the clothes are donated by Montclair faculty, staff and alumni, according to Bajwa.

“The main purpose is that everyone has an equal opportunity to go for the career they want,” Bajwa adds. “Expensive clothing should not get in the way of not getting their desired or dream job. That’s the whole objective of Rocky’s Closet.”

Sanariya, pantry coordinator and a graduate assistant in Nutrition and Food Science, explains that the Red Hawk Pantry is for anyone on campus with a Montclair ID, including students, faculty or staff, who may need groceries or health- and personal-care products. “Right now, as we know, groceries are very expensive, so they can come get some basic foods,” he says, adding that the pantry is well stocked with canned goods as well as ready-to-eat products, such as chips and cookies, and even condiments. Established in 2016, the pantry is located in Blanton Hall and open three days a week. An estimated 100 students per week visit the pantry, Sanariya says.

Stefanie Lobue, a graduate student in Public Health, and Kevin O’Neil, a junior Exercise Science major, were tabling for the Office of Health Promotion. They were handing out recipe cards for healthy, quick and easy meals that students can make, along with some free insulated lunch boxes.

Volunteers were not swarming in but on Day One, a couple of students wandered into the ballroom, one looking for volunteer opportunities for the weekend. He was informed of a “I Want to Mow Your Lawn” event in West Orange. Another student asked about services to help him deal with stress; he was given information on CAPS and told about drop-in group therapy sessions available to students.

A female student stands at a table and speaks.
Ashley Ancheta of Chi Upsilon Sigma shares information on the I Have a Dream Foundation, for which the sorority is raising funds.

Meanwhile, in the Student Center lobby, Ashley Ancheta and Chiana Rodriguez, members of Chi Upsilon Sigma sorority, were soliciting donations for the I Have a Dream (IHAD) Foundation – New Jersey and a Thanksgiving holiday dinner for students and family members. The IHAD Foundation supports students so that they “have the opportunity to pursue higher education, fulfill their potential and achieve their dreams.

Male students sit and stand at a table stacked with canned goods
Members of Pi Kappa Alpha collect canned food in the Student Center lobby.

At another table, Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers Tyler Masino, Dante Santiago and others were collecting canned goods for their annual “Pikesgiving” Canned Food Drive. Other Greek organizations were asked to donate 40 cans of food or $40. The groups answered the call, so Masino was planning a trip to ShopRite to buy 300 cans of food with monetary donations. The cans would then be delivered to New York Public Schools 531 and 536 in the Bronx, where Santiago’s parents work.

Tabling events, volunteer opportunities and donation drives were held throughout the week. To learn more about these and future volunteer opportunities, visit the Volunteer Center @msuvolunteers on Instagram or email

A female student draws on a bag.
Iyoni Tillman, a junior Film and Television major, decorates a bag that will be filled with hygiene products and donated to a nonprofit organization in Paterson.
Bags reading “Happy Thanksgiving” are stacked on a table.
Students at Montclair volunteered to decorate and stuff bags as part of Hunger & Homelessness Week to make it a “Happy Thanksgiving” for others.

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters.