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Marymount University emphasizes service on charter day

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Since 1950, Marymount University in Arlington has emphasized three core values -- one of them being “service to others.” As the community marked the day of the institution’s founding 70 years ago, its members proved that service is not just something they talk about -- it’s evident in their actions.

The university’s charter day celebration Oct. 12 kicked off with a special virtual opening ceremony. President Irma Becerra, sisters from the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary order, Hispanic Heritage Month representatives, faculty and staff all shared stories of Marymount’s past, present and future. They also stressed why service is so important.

“As our country and world continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, we see its harsh effects --  the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been lost, its disproportionate impact on minority communities and the devastating number of people who are no longer employed and struggling to get by,” Becerra said. “In times like this, I commend you all for spending the university holiday with each other, and using it to help those less fortunate.”

Following the ceremony, community members came together to pick and plant fresh vegetables to benefit the local area. At Marymount’s Garden of Hope on its main campus, volunteers were busy planting kale as a fall crop.

Susan Agolini, assistant professor of biology and physical sciences and faculty sponsor for the Food for Thought club, explained how the garden began as a way to get students involved with the community in a meaningful way. It also served to advance the mission of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), which seeks to provide nutritious food to 2,300 area families every week, by participating in its Plot Against Hunger project.

The COVID-19 pandemic led AFAC to halt staff support for the Plot Against Hunger program, in order to turn its full attention to sorely needed client services.

“When the pandemic hit, it became clear early on that the impact on food security would be quite dramatic,” Agolini said. “Those of us who had been part of the program for years knew that the produce that we grew was going to be needed more than ever, and we were determined to find a way to get it to members of the community who could most benefit from it.”

To fill this need, a packaging and distribution program began from a collaboration between Marymount, Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture, the Virginia Cooperative Extension and other former members of the Plot Against Hunger Committee, including Rock Spring Church. More than 8,800 pounds of produce have been donated through the partnership, which has thrived thanks to a Community Engagement Grant from the Saints’ Center for Service.

While volunteers worked on campus, others pitched in at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Garden in Arlington, where they harvested more than 53 pounds of peppers, tomatoes and parsnips. Last year, Marymount students helped the Church Garden donate more than 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to those in need throughout the Arlington community. In honor of that service, the church designated the special work day exclusively for Marymount participants.

This is the fourth year that Marymount has collaborated with St. Andrew’s in this endeavor. Weekly volunteering opportunities are available from March through October at both Marymount’s Garden of Hope and the Episcopal Church Garden.

“With their incredible commitment of time, energy and compassion, St. Andrew’s really embraced the Marymount community and taught us everything we needed to know about starting seeds, planting a garden, weeding and harvesting,” Agolini added.

Later in the afternoon, Marymount volunteers repackaged produce for distribution to Arlington families at Rock Spring Church, which has generously donated its space to the new packaging and distribution collaboration every Monday and Thursday. Their efforts resulted in the distribution of 131 pounds of food from gardens and more than 900 pounds of harvested potatoes and squash, which was all donated to the St. Charles Borromeo Church food pantry.

In all of the “Garden with Purpose” and “Package with Purpose” events on charter day, volunteers observed strict health and safety guidelines such as wearing a face covering and maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at all times.

Service opportunities weren’t just limited to current Marymount community members or those who could donate their time in person. Friends and alumni were invited to volunteer virtually in support of organizations throughout their community that are working hard to combat food insecurity, now more than ever due to the pandemic.

Marymount’s founders, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, were also honored during charter day with a special virtual Mass. 



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020