An act of kindness

Story by Emily Gresbrink

A large cafeteria-style room is filled with chatter, aromas of home-cooked meals and the bustle of people for just over an hour. After families and individuals of all ages and backgrounds begin to leave, a small crowd remains and begins to take down chairs, tables and start cleaning up the mess of dinner time; they are the last to leave after making sure everything is clean and ready for the next day.

This group represents Beta Upsilon Sigma, the largest on-campus business organization of UW-Eau Claire. Each Tuesday, BUS comes to The Community Table — a local organization committed to providing meals to those in need — to volunteer their time helping at the shelter by cleaning up after dinnertime for the less fortunate population of the Eau Claire area.

BUS has been involved since at least 2010, according to Rachel Keniston, director of The Community Table.

“It’s a huge impact having a dependable group coming once a week,” she said. “Cleaning up is hard — and having them once a week, and their energy …
it’s great.”

Senior and BUS community service chair Ashley Moore said the business majors or minors head to The Community Table on Tuesday nights to both dine and clean up afterwards.

“It varies from week to week,” she said. “We have a set five or so people who go, then another 10 or so here and there.”

Keniston said those who go to the Community Table appreciate and enjoy the students coming on Tuesdays.

“It goes back to dignity,” she said, “when a student comes here and recognizes a person as an individual, looking them in the eyes and saying hello — that’s a huge deal for them.”

However, homeless, poverty and food insecurity goes beyond The Community Table: According to the “Map the Meal Gap” data from 2009, nearly 13 percent of Eau Claire county is defined as food insecure. 21.7 percent of children in Eau Claire county were food insecure, and The State of Homelessness in America report from 2009 said in Wisconsin, twice as many people experienced homelessness without shelter in 2009 than in 2008.

BUS helps alleviate food insecurity and homelessness problems in Eau Claire by volunteering for other organizations in the community.

Their volunteering efforts, Moore said, reach out as far as the Feed My People food bank, United Way and The Beacon House, to name a few.

“We also volunteer at Boys and Girls Club, where we cook dinner on Friday evenings,” Moore added.  “It’s a place to go for kids who don’t have a place to go. We see a lot of people who are underprivileged there.”

Kenitson said the benefits of volunteering — specifically for BUS — go far beyond required service hours.

“Because these students are perspective employers and job creators, they can see the homeless not as a liability,” she said. “It will make them see the U.S. as a resource of people who can potentially contribute and work in the community. They’re a resource that needs to be tapped as a part of the economic community.”

On average, Moore said, BUS gives nearly 2,000 hours per academic year in service hours from approximately 75 members — they often exceed the required two-hour minimum she said.

“Community service is such a big part of BUS,” she said. “We have other events we do by ourselves, but doing a thousand hours per semester is huge.”

Kenitson expressed gratitude and optimism towards BUS’ volunteer work in her two years thus far at The Community Table.

“I think they’re outstanding,” she said. “They are young adults — I am impressed with their concern for individuals, where we are going as a society and for our community.”

Moore herself has nearly 40 hours this semester alone. Her sentiments towards volunteering for the homeless and hungry in Eau Claire, she said, are commonly felt among other BUS members.

“I really enjoy feeling like I’m making a difference by providing the organization a chance to volunteer,” she said.  “I know that I’m helping others by having BUS volunteer. It’s a nice thing to do, giving back to the community.”