They started arriving early in the morning to set up chairs and tables and made sure linens and place settings were precisely arranged. Another group helped serve more than 500 guests at a buffet line and another team cleaned up when the Legacy of Hope gala had ended.
In all, 150 Stanislaus State students, faculty, staff and administrators lent a helping hand for the 18th Legacy of Hope fundraising dinner in November that benefited the United Samaritans Foundation.
Additionally, Stan State alumnus Michael Taylor was the keynote speaker for the event.
Stan State’s voluntary participation is a legacy in its own right.
“This is probably the largest off-campus community event the University participates in,” said Julie Fox, director of Service Learning.
While United Samaritans began providing food boxes to Stan State students in need in 2018, Stan State’s affiliation with the nonprofit agency began 21 years ago.
Fox was in her first year with Service Learning and it took her one trip to the United Samaritans office to make a lasting connection that has been mutually beneficial.
Pre-COVID, as many as 200 students worked with the non-profit, volunteering at the dinner from its inception, going into neighborhoods to serve food to the needy and working as interns.
Faculty were equally enthusiastic, inviting United Samaritan leaders to speak to classes or arranging for students to work at the agency, Fox said.
“The level of compassion and community spirit you find at Stan State in our faculty, students and staff is really inspiring,” Fox said.
It was on full display for the 2022 Legacy of Hope, the second dinner held since it was cancelled by the pandemic in 2020.
“It was great,” said Jen Sturtevant, director of Stan State’s Basic Needs. “The room was full. The energy was high, and the spirit of those volunteering felt like they were eager to give back, eager to participate and be able to interact with each other and support some amazing work that’s happening in the community.”
Among the 121 students and 29 faculty and staff volunteering were members of Basic Needs, business ethics courses, Circle K International, College Corps, the Criminal Justice Club, the Sociology Club, Kappa Sigma, Master of Social Work Program, Pre-Dental Society, Pre-Health Society, Project Rebound, Psi Chi, Science in Our Community and Warrior Chemistry Club.
All worked to make the evening special, including VIP servers from Stan State administration, who served more than 500 supporters in attendance.
“It makes me feel proud and grateful that there are kind people in our community who want to make the world better for others and give back,” Sturtevant said. “That’s a big takeaway for me. Everyone is in that room because they care. That feels pretty amazing.”
Legacy of Hope and United Samaritans hold special places in Sturtevant’s heart. Her parents, Bill and Maris, began serving meals to the needy in the basement of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1991 and their group eventually joined forces with United Samaritans, which formed in 1994. Sturtevant grew up immersed in giving and serves on the Legacy of Hope planning committee
“I enjoyed it over the years, watching its many iterations and stages and seeing what it’s become, and the dedication of the community for it to continue. It takes everybody,” Sturtevant said.
As director of Basic Needs, her view of United Samaritans is from both sides. So is that of Taylor, who mesmerized the crowd with his story.
A 2018 Stan State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies, Taylor was working two jobs to get by and enrolled in the University’s Master of Social Work program.
He started an internship with Basic Needs in 2019 as the department was forming, and his duties included helping students with CalFresh applications and distributing food boxes, provided by United Samaritans, on campus.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Taylor lost one of his jobs and relied on those very food boxes to help keep him nourished as he completed his studies.
“I was stressed out and was tasked to make some tough, tough decisions,” Taylor said. “I did not know when my next meal would come, and unemployment was a mess. The feeling of uncertainty can be paralyzing. But one thing I did know was about a program, right on campus, that could meet my needs, so I could have food and focus on my education. The program never wavered. It gave me peace of mind, and I knew that I would be OK.
“To this day, I am still astonished by how everything unfolded and came full circle for me: from distributing food to being in need myself. In hindsight, it was a blessing because it gave me firsthand experience, and I benefitted directly from the program.”
Fox said there are Stan State students who have benefitted from United Samaritans since childhood, when the organization’s food truck traveled into their neighborhoods and served meals to all in need.
Other students have volunteered to help with those food trucks, which cover a growing amount of territory, and they have profound experiences. One student changed his major after helping to distribute meals from the truck, Fox said.
Stan State’s connection with United Samaritans continues beyond Legacy of Hope. Faculty members engage their students with the agency in a variety of ways that help the agency and are practical teaching tools.
Those efforts involve fewer people than the 150 who turned out for Legacy of Hope, but the impact is just as significant and only strengthens the bond between the two valued Turlock institutions.