Members of Cornell’s Greek life interacted with the Ithaca community on Saturday for a day of service during the biannual Greeks Give Back event, which was hosted by the tri-council of the Interfraternity, Panhellenic and Multicultural Greek Letter Councils.
According to Grace Burgin, vice president of university and community relations for the Panhellenic Council, over 780 students signed up to volunteer, which was one of the highest numbers in recent years.
The program allows Greek students to “explore the greater Ithaca area and discover some really neat places that provide the backbone for the Ithaca and Cornell community,” said Chris Galantino, vice president of university and community relations for the Interfraternity Council.
Students donated their time to approximately 16 organizations, including the Paleontological Research Institution, Friends of the Library and Ithaca Community Childcare. Due to the large number of students, many were also assigned to the Letter Writing Campaign to support groups such as Cards for Hospitalized Kids and Soldier’s Gratitude, according to Galantino.
“Given how much of the undergraduate population is Greek, there is a lot of potential for impactful work,” Galantino said. The event forces students out of the “college bubble” and “has a unique and incomparable effect on the student perception of Cornell’s neighbors and friends,” he said.
This year, the Tri-Council collaborated with Greeks Go Green to offer more opportunities for sustainability focused projects, according to Galantino. In addition to many other new endeavors, students helped expand the Sustainable Finger Lakes Map and worked with Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles to assemble and test bikes.
Some Greeks Give Back participants also played a special role as peacekeepers during the March for Our Lives demonstration in downtown Ithaca on Saturday.
The vice presidents from each of the three councils spent over a month planning the large event, including reaching out to community organizations, assigning shifts and coordinating transportation.
Burgin said that a major concern was about whether volunteers who signed up would uphold their commitments.
“The biggest fear when putting on an event like this is that you’ll tell the community partners how many people are coming, they’ll take the time to set up projects for them, and no one comes to their shift,” she said.
However, lack of participation did not prove to be as much of problem this year, according to Galantino.
“It was as exhausting as it was rewarding,” he said. Burgin said that the importance of Greeks Give Back was to allow members to extend their impact beyond the typical fundraisers. “There’s nothing wrong with fundraising for your cause, but I think the current culture around philanthropy is missing something really important: the why,” Burgin said. “If members don’t really know why they are putting on these events and raising all of the money that they do, the philanthropic spirit is gone.”