The Pitt News

Pitt Make a Difference Day inspires sense of community

Two Pitt students paint a fence outside Phillips Elementary School in the South Side on Pitt Make a Difference Day, Oct 22, 2016. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

Two Pitt students paint a fence outside Phillips Elementary School in the South Side on Pitt Make a Difference Day, Oct 22, 2016. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

Two Pitt students paint a fence outside Phillips Elementary School in the South Side on Pitt Make a Difference Day, Oct 22, 2016. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

By Elias Rappaport | Staff Writer

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While Pitt’s annual Make a Difference Day usually sends Pitt students out of Oakland and into the community, the service day attracted more than just Pitt students this year.

For the group sent to South Side to pick up trash, they found unlikely friends. Six Duquesne University students heard about PMADD and decided to pick up trash and weed gardens, making a difference around their house on 16th Street. While not directly involved in PMADD, the students –– who were led by a member of the local Neighborhood Watch –– filled trash bags along several South Side streets.

James Duch, a senior marketing major at Duquesne, said he saw civic duty as a way of strengthening their own community and giving back.

“A couple of us just decided to help out with a bunch of Pitt students,” Duch said. “This is a great opportunity to be able to meet future students and just get a greater sense of community.”

About 3,850 Pitt students participated in this year’s PMADD, each taking part in a service event at one of 96 different project sites, with projects ranging from tree planting to upkeep at a local playground to a project that Habitat for Humanity sponsored. PMADD sent students to neighborhoods like South Side, Shadyside, East Liberty and, for the first time this year, Manchester and Northview Heights in North Side.

PMADD chair Dan Lampmann said he was pleased with the turnout despite the poor weather.

“The things we decided to implement … it worked with registration and it worked with turnout, because even though it was a rainy, dreary day, [about] 3,800 students came out and helped the community,” Lampmann said.

Jahnelle Jordan, a fifth-year bioengineering major, said she sees the importance in picking up trash, but believes the University could do more to promote community service in the Pittsburgh area.

Jordan said she wished there were more options than just PMADD and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service — another annual Pitt service day that takes place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“It’d be nice, I guess, if there were more opportunities and maybe if we got different projects, because … it feels like I’ve been picking up trash for the past five years,” Jordan said. “It maybe would be nice to have more variety in projects.”

While some groups spent the afternoon collecting trash, others were able to work with Produce to People –– a food bank in South Side that helps people who are food insecure get healthy food.

These students distributed 21,963 pounds of food and served about 550 families, who each received 30 to 50 pounds of food, according to a representative from Produce to People.

Food insecurity occurs when a person does not have consistent access to nutritious and affordable food, a problem afflicting 14 percent of Allegheny County residents, according to Produce to People’s website.

Keerthana Samanthapudi, a first-year economics major on a pre-med track, helped out at Produce to People Saturday. While packing food, her friend noticed another volunteer at the site who was a Pitt employee she wanted to conduct research with.

“It’s cool to see people from around the Pitt community, other than just students, also coming out to volunteer,” Samanthapudi said.

As students boarded the buses Saturday morning, many sounded optimistic despite the forecast of rain throughout the day. Some students, like sophomore exercise science major Makenzie Zeh, were nostalgic for their grade school days.

“I thought of it like a huge field trip,” she said. “Everyone was going out on these school buses.”

While every student had their own reason for participating in PMADD, there was a common sentiment shared with students on bus 66, heading to Phillips Elementary School in South Side to paint fences –– students wanted to give back to the neighborhood. Project leader Breanna Purzycki emphasized the significance of doing community service, especially for fellow college students.

“It’s important not to just make your stay at a university for four years and move on with your life,” Purzycki said. “You have to give back to the community while you’re there, because it’s giving so much to you.”

At Phillips Elementary School, students were tasked with repainting the fence stretching the boundaries of the property. The rain impeded their progress and eventually led to the project stalling, but Michael Calvert, principal of the South Side public school, expressed the key lesson Pitt students gained from the event regardless: awareness of the inequalities that face many in the city of Pittsburgh.

“I think that having college students give back to their community where their college is located, having them see another side of their world, people who need assistance, just to have that community awareness, that civic awareness, it’s a great lesson for them,” Calvert said. “Plus we get a valuable service provided for us.”

Erin O’Connell, a sophomore marketing and supply chain management major, said she wanted to take part in the event because of the impact it would have on the students at Phillips Elementary.

“It’d be great to have the elementary kids come and see this fence painted and [to] see that there’s people in Pittsburgh that care about them,” O’Connell said.

Undeclared first-year student Harly Stuyvesant, who spent her day cutting down invasive vines around the Monongahela River in South Side, braved the cold weather to do service at PMADD. Still, she was pleased with the work she did that day.

“It was pretty cold and pretty miserable, but we really made a difference in the community, and that’s what counts,” Stuyvesant said.

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Pitt Make a Difference Day inspires sense of community