The fifth annual Day of Demeter, a day of service dedicated to the greater Cornell and Ithaca community, kicked off on Saturday.
The event, hosted by the three Greek letter councils — Interfraternity Council, the Multi-Cultural Greek Letter Council and the Panhellenic Council — started in Duffield Hall, where members from each of the the 42 IFC chapters, 16 MGLC chapters and 11 of Panhellenic Chapters gathered for free beverages, bagels and even labeled trucker hats. The keynote speaker, Dana Hork — a 2002 graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and the founder of Change for Change, an organization that donates students’ loose change to charitable causes — encouraged students to look for philanthropic opportunities in even the smallest of places.
“I was really excited about the event. I attended last year and I feel like there were a lot of people, spilling over out of the Duffield atrium,” Nathaniel Houghton ’11 said. Houghton was one of the organizers of the event, along with Corinna Romantic ’11 and Angela Lau ’12. The three serve as vice presidents for university and campus relations for the IFC, Panhellenic Council and the MGLC respectively. The trio based much of their planning for the year around Day of Demeter, which has been steadily growing as a unifier for the Greek community since its inception five years ago.
Each Chapter was assigned to volunteer at one of 18 Ithaca locations including the Ithaca Youth Bureau, Beebe Lake, the Cornell Plantations and the Ithaca Children’s Garden between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tasks at the locations varied from planting mustard seeds to picking up trash to organizing educational pamphlets at the Ithaca Sciencenter.
In the past, Day of Demeter was a organized as a larger Collegetown clean-up, according to Houghton. This year and last year’s event were modeled off the University’s “Into the Streets” campaign, with an emphasis on activities in the city of Ithaca.
The sisters of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority worked at Cornell Plantations, where, despite a dearth of actual trash to pick up, they were able to appreciate the weather and the opportunity to serve.
“Despite the ... lack of trash and things to clean up, we still found ourselves enjoying the weather and the surrounding beauty of the community,” Lauren Pignataro ’11 said. Pignataro is president of Theta. “We were able to enjoy the company of about 10 sisters and eight or nine Sigma Phi brothers, and appreciate our beautiful campus while giving back to it. It was a great success.”
The philanthropy chairs of each house played a strong role in the efforts of the Day of Demeter.
Victoria Castens ’12, philanthropy chair of the Alpha Phi sorority, said she was excited for the Day of Demeter and its impact on the community.
“I think it’s a really great way to improve the rest of the community’s view of [the Greek system]. We show up and do these things and it shows the community that we’re here for more than the purpose of socializing,” Castens said.
Castens’ chapter was assigned to the Ithaca Youth Bureau, and she says the connections that were made will lead to future philanthropic endeavors, which include volunteering for the Sweet Tooth Soiree, a semi-formal dessert tasting night from which proceeds benefit the Ithaca Youth Bureau.
“We wrote thank-you notes to people who donated to the silent auction and the people who participated in the First Annual Sweet Tooth Soiree,” said Castens.
Castens noted that membership in the Greek community can often face certain stigmas. Day of Demeter is a useful way to dispel the stereotypes, according to Castens.
“One of the reasons I joined [the Greek community] was because I thought that I could be a part of one organization that is also a part of a bigger whole,” Castens said.
The day of service is also a good opportunity to galvanize and support a community that is still recovering from tragedy, according to organizers.
“It has been a tough semester for us in a number of ways. It’s good to have people see the kind of stuff we can do,” Houghton said.