These Miami students formed a new way to help the community around them

Members of the Miami University Student United Way pose with the Blessing Boxes they established to help provide food to local residents. Similar to the Little Free Library with books, the boxes contain non-perishable food items people free to take if they need food and everyone is invited to place items in them to help others. CONTRIBUTED
Members of the Miami University Student United Way pose with the Blessing Boxes they established to help provide food to local residents. Similar to the Little Free Library with books, the boxes contain non-perishable food items people free to take if they need food and everyone is invited to place items in them to help others. CONTRIBUTED

A group of more than two dozen Miami students has become more closely tied to the community through its involvement with a new organization, the Student United Way at Miami.

The group was formed over the spring and summer and started as a campus organization with the start of the just-ended semester. Serving as president is Patrick Burns, a junior education major.

He said it functions as more of a support group for Butler County United Way that serves Oxford after a merger early this year.

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“It’s a club that works to advance education and health.” he said. “The focus of the chapter is to do service with social services, get our name out there and get people to advance in their education. We do community service in Oxford and surrounding area to better the lives of people in the surrounding area.”

As students, he said, they do not have a lot of money available and do not do a fundraising campaign, but leave that to the overall United Way organization.

Carol Havens, the area relations manager or Butler County United Way, is a supporter of the student group.

“We had an intern and this is her project. She felt the need for United Way on campus and she formed it before her graduation,” Havens said. “It’s good to have representative on campus to spread awareness of needs in the area.”

The fledgling organization got its social service efforts off to a good start this past semester with the introduction of two Blessing Boxes. Similar to the concept of the Little Free Library, the Blessing Boxes are set up inviting residents to place non-perishable food items in them for those in need to take as they need.

The boxes have been placed at the Oxford Senior Center and Parkview Arms Apartments, the Section 8 housing complex on College Corner Pike.

“The boxes were already red. We dipped our hands in white paint and put handprints on the boxes to show the connection between college students and the community,” Burns said. Even though the idea came from the Little Free Library concept, they did not follow the idea with the name. “It is a blessing to receive good from others, so we put that spin on it, not Little Free Pantry.”

They picked up a few donations for the Blessing Boxes from the Oxford Kiwanis Club after their annual food drive last month. Every year, there are people whose houses were missed or were not at home during the door-to-door collection and the Student United Way group was given those items to stock the boxes.

He said members also came back from Thanksgiving weekend break with donations from their families.

The original idea came from his sister, Amanda Burns, the campaign volunteer coordinator for Butler County United Way.

“The goal is to get (the boxes) self-sustainable. It’s a new thing, so we restock them. Each meeting, we get a few cans. Carol checks on them. Amanda checks on them,” he said, noting the upcoming university break will require additional vigilance in keeping the boxes stocked. “I live in Fairfield, so I will drive up a few times to check on them.”

Havens said she checks on the Blessing Boxes several times a week and has received donations from some in the community to help with the effort, even though they encourage everyone to place food items in the boxes.

“There is a need for feeding the community and we help spread the word about filling the Blessing Boxes. Anyone can feel free to drop things off, especially at Parkview Arms Apartments. The Senior Center box is pretty self-sufficient,” Havens said. “People in the community donate to me and do not go out there. The back of my car is filled with canned goods. The box is to the left of the office and it empties very quickly.”

University adviser for the Student United Way at Miami is Leigh Ackerman from the office of Community Engagement and Service.

Havens said the effort is not only aimed at providing extra food for those needing it, but praises the awareness aspects of the student organization.

“There is a misconception of need here in Oxford,” she said. “We want students and professors to be aware so they can help out.”

Burns said they have 30 active members with 17 having shown up for the handprint painting on the Blessing Boxes. He said members are enthusiastic about serving the community. Most of them learned about the organization by word of mouth and checking out their table in the Armstrong Center, set up after the fall Mega Fair was rained out.

The Blessing Boxes were the major effort through this past semester, but Burns said they plan to expand on that effort and keep growing.

“We have a few ideas, nothing as big as this project is planned but next year, we want to try to get funds for a Christmas event,” he said.

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