Giving U: 10 Charity Projects by University Students

There are a lot of ways for students to spend their time in college, and that includes giving back to the community. These inspiring students dedicate their free time to innovative projects to improve the lives of those in need. These projects have a broad scope, from disaster relief for East Coast hurricane victims to the ongoing fight against hunger. Find out what makes each of these 10 programs special, whether it’s boys in boas, costumed swimmers in icy water or students making Santa Claus real.

  • Cazenovia College: Hakuna Matata. A senior majoring in human services at a small college in central New York, near Syracuse, has raised $800 to help children in need. She markets inspirational art through an online store and art shows, and part of the proceeds go to child advocacy charities with a global reach. Buyers can choose to donate to three different charities targeting children, including those with disabilities. The art on sale is also created by like-minded individuals, and the Hakuna Matata project is reaching out to the community, including high school art students, for additional support.
  • Marist College North Shore: Pink Cupcakes and Morning Tea. The goal: raising money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The method: costumed cupcake sales by students from Chanel House at Marist College North Shore, a Catholic boys’ secondary school in the Marist tradition, located in North Sydney, Australia. Decked out in pink wigs, feather boas, glittery hats and loud pink clothing, the students raised more than $1,200 in support of their cause. The annual event was started by a breast cancer survivor and mother of a former student. Students at Marist College North Shore also have service opportunities volunteering with seniors and individuals with special needs.
  • North Dakota State University: Taters for Tots. Also known as “Spuds for Buds,” this program started when an assistant professor decided to try to “find a home” for thousands of pounds of potatoes grown in the university’s plant sciences department, some of which ended up as research waste. With inspiration from a student majoring in crop and weed sciences, the group expanded operations, and in 2011, total food donations reached nearly 50,000 pounds. As of November 2012, about 20,000 pounds have gone to food pantries in more than 20 counties statewide. Students volunteer their time, vehicles and gas money making spud deliveries to shut-ins, disabled persons, veterans and individuals in need.
  • Rowan University: Keep Calm and Stay Jersey Strong. Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey seaboard, but it couldn’t keep down the students from Rowan University, in Glassboro. A senior criminal justice major and other Rowan students collaborated with a local screenprinting studio to raise $2,000 for the Red Cross by selling inspirational t-shirts branded with a Jersey map. Thanks to their social media outreach, this stylish method of generating donations has gone viral in the hurricane’s aftermath, and concerned humanitarians from as far away as California have made orders to contribute to the effort.
  • UC San Diego: Operation Santa. This holiday aid program, in its sixth year, reaches out to those in need, including families with single mothers or victims of domestic violence. Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity at UCSD, organizes fundraisers with area merchants and community members to drum up materials and gift-wrapping labor, as well as accepting direct donations through the program’s website. Once a family is nominated to receive Operation Santa assistance, they become eligible for parcels of food and gifts that can make all the difference during the holidays. Alpha Phi Omega is one of more than 100 UCSD organizations dedicated to community service.
  • University of Alberta: Chillin’ for Charity Polar Bear Swim. The annual Chillin’ for Charity is a zany event where students, citizens, professors and deans take turns dressing up in costume and diving into pools of icy water — in the frigid temps of the Canadian winter. The event, in its sixth year, is masterminded by JDC West, a student-run business competition and charity organization. Participants collect pledges from friends and family before taking the plunge, and the event has raised more than $80,000 since its first polar bear philanthropist made splashdown in 2007. All proceeds from the event — including ticket purchases for a post-Chillin’ party — go to support the United Way.
  • University of Memphis: Balmoral Chamber Orchestra. Music performed well may be considered a humanitarian effort in and of itself, but here’s a volunteer orchestra that is charitable in a more traditional sense. This group, led by a pre-med student majoring in music, has welcomed about 40 university students, local professionals and high school students. The orchestra donates all proceeds from its performances to charities, and also offers a way for music performance students to gain additional experience in an orchestral environment. Balmoral Chamber Orchestra is helping to fund a program that provides free violin lessons and materials to inner-city children.
  • University of Nebraska and University of Iowa: Corn Bowl Philanthropic Competition. When the time comes for the annual football rivalry between these two universities, they compete in arenas that go way beyond the gridiron. The Corn Bowl’s philanthropy contest took the form of a penny fundraiser for 2011 and a blood drive for 2012. The winners of the philanthropic competition get the name of their school inscribed on the Corn Bowl trophy, right alongside the winner of the game. The Corn Bowl isn’t the only volunteerism going on; the UI’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences awards individuals for community leadership and service, and UN-Lincoln’s Students Today Leaders Forever group organized a Pay it Forward Tour over spring break.
  • University of North Carolina: Kenan-Flagler and Habitat for Humanity. Students, faculty and staff at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC volunteer building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Since 2005, Kenan-Flagler has funded houses in Guatemala, Honduras and North Carolina. The business school’s latest goal is to raise $50,000 to help build a house for a family of Burmese immigrants who moved to the Chapel Hill area after 20 years living in refugee camps on the border of Thailand. The project is in partnership with Hatch My House, a platform launched in 2009 for online gifting, which helps recipients save for homes through donations from friends and the community.
  • Wichita State University: Empty Bowls Project. This collaborative, creative effort raises money for organizations that work to end hunger. Potters and other ceramic and clay artists partner with the campus community to produce handcrafted bowls, which are filled with soup and bread for a $10 donation. The Wichita State fundraiser focuses on establishing a food pantry on campus, to help fight hunger in area neighborhoods. Other groups across the nation and around the world have also organized their own events as part of the Empty Bowls movement. The Shockers of Wichita State have other options for service learning, too; Service in the City events include helping the Salvation Army distribute toys to families in need.

These are only a few of the charitable projects underway at schools around the globe. Students interested in starting a philanthropic initiative of their own should contact a professor or administrator at their university whose work is relevant to the goal of the proposed program. And who knows? With some careful planning and dedicated work, any good idea can make a positive difference for the community. All it takes, at first, is to begin.

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