students-give-saturdaSome 80 college student volunteers used their Saturday morning to help others.

All of them were members of Phi Sigma Pi, a gender inclusive national honor fraternity, and they met up at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank ready to help.

The group regularly participates in service projects like Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots and creating care packages for soldiers and veterans, all part of the club’s mission.

University of North Georgia Dahlonega was chosen as host of this year’s regional conference for the club, which brought students from as far as Western Carolina University and Georgia Southern University.

These students were split up into four teams: one for distribution, one for packing for the mobile pantry, one for sorting the day-to-day donations and one to paint bowls for the Empty Bowl program. Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, helped organize the group, which also involved seven volunteers from Free Chapel who acted as team guides.

“(Free Chapel’s) financial support makes our mobile pantry possible,” Blackstock said. Partly because of that financial support, 26 families received four bags of items to their homes at the Park Hill Apartments in Gainesville. They included a bag of hygiene products, a bag of snacks, a bag of meat and a bag of bread.

“It took about five to six months of planning,” Ashley Sawdey said. “It’s amazing how it’s coming to life.”

Sawdey is the president of the club’s chapter, joining up two years ago when a friend suggested it after a hiking accident left her in the hospital for four months.

“I was really thinking about my future and what I wanted that to be,” Sawdey said. “The fraternity’s ideals and morals matched up with mine. I fell in love with the values they had.”

As president, it’s Sawdey’s job to take care of business and manage the other members of the club, as well as help plan events like volunteering at a food bank.

Sarah Hollingsworth, a student at Western Carolina and regional delegate for the fraternity, also helps plan events and handles chapter relations.

“We needed a big place. We didn’t want to overwhelm people,” Hollingsworth said.

She said the groups tries to provide at least two or three service events a year in her chapter. They are involved in the Big Brother, Big Sister program in their area.

“It’s not like we are just a group of nerds. We are a group of nerds that like helping people,” Hollingsworth said.

“It’s an emotional day for me. … It’s really awesome to see everyone helping out so much,” Ashley Rodriguez said. “This is really important to me.”

Rodriguez is the first of her family to go to college. She’s enrolled at UNG’s Dahlonega campus and is treasurer of the campus’ chapter of the fraternity, Epsilon Chi.

While you have to have 3.0 GPA or higher to join, the fraternity is welcoming of students on other campuses.

“We don’t have a chapter on the Gainesville campus, but Gainesville students are more than welcome to join us,” Rodriguez said.

By Hailey Van Parys
The Gainesville Times
February 28, 2016