Pictured: Marie Baker, Beverly Peters, professor Michelle Swaerdens, Jena O’Neil, Jessica Semark, and Ashleigh Harding were among a group from NC who dedicated their time this winter volunteering with Start Me Up Niagara.
It may have been a cold winter, but seven Community and Justice Services students and their professor Michelle Swaerdens were focused on providing a hot meal to those in need.
Swaerdens recruited a group of seven students to volunteer with her and her son Matthew with Start Me Up Niagara’s Out of the Cold program at Westminster United Church in St. Catharines. The Out of the Cold Program runs there seven days a week to provide dinner and shelter to people in need.
From November 2013 to March 2013, Swaerdens and her group volunteered with the program twice a month – on the third and last Sundays each month – from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. She estimated that they served between 600 to 900 meals.
“We also set up before and cleaned up afterwards – that’s a lot of dishes to wash,” she said.
For Swaerdens, volunteering is a family affair. Her husband volunteered during a stormy evening when the weather prevented the students from attending. Her daughter, who is too young to participate, also got involved and baked 125 cupcakes with a friend for the final evening.
The volunteer experience, she noted, was a perfect opportunity for her to lead by example. NC’s Community and Justice Services Program believes strongly in community justice by providing volunteer opportunities for students to support those in need in the community and, as a parent, she also tries to teach her children the importance of social justice and volunteerism.
She said she is very proud of all the students’ hard work and dedication to helping others in the community.
“I am very proud of them and we had a lot of fun together! They worked very hard to provide a welcoming environment and a great meal to the individuals and families who accessed the service,” said Swaerdens. “They represented our Community and Justice Services Program and Niagara College well.”