Students team up to feed homeless

In its first in-person volunteer event since the pandemic, Students Together Ending Poverty distributed meals to the homeless at the Dadeland South Metrorail Station.

STEP e-board members Preeti Shukla, left, and Nicole Ivanova, right, speak about STEP’s volunteer event while waiting for the metro to arrive with STEP volunteer Joseph Wicker on March 19 at University Metrorail Station.
STEP e-board members Preeti Shukla, left, and Nicole Ivanova, right, speak about STEP’s volunteer event while waiting for the metro to arrive with STEP volunteer Joseph Wicker on March 19 at University Metrorail Station. Photo credit: Hadieh Zolfaghari

The March 19 event attracted eight members of the campus student organization who served pre-packaged meals of steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes and chicken to 15 people, said Nicole Ivanova, the group’s volunteer coordinator.

“Being able to actually make an impact right then and there physically and see it with your own eyes really makes you feel like you’re one step closer to the way things used to be before coronavirus and all of the pandemic restrictions,” said Ivanova, a 21-year-old junior global health studies major.

Because of restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Students Together Ending Poverty, also known as STEP, had not organized in-person volunteer opportunities, said Ivanova. Instead, members hosted guest speaker events with various non-profit organizations and partnered with Project UP-START, a virtual volunteer opportunity in which members provide tutoring and mentorship to youth with housing insecurities in Miami-Dade County.

“In Covid times, it’s hard to get in-person volunteering opportunities,” said Joseph Wicker, a 19-year-old freshman business analytics major who volunteered at the food distribution. “To actually be on the ground helping people instead of online makes a huge difference.”

Homeless people routinely sit near the Metrorail station in the evenings, which sparked the attention of students and inspired them to create the volunteer project. An anonymous donor provides the meals and students promote the distribution through word of mouth.

As long as members follow all safety precautions, Ivanova said she is confident STEP will continue managing in-person events. STEP will be traveling to Metrorail stations nearby the University of Miami to distribute meals every Friday and Saturday of the semester as long as volunteers remain interested in attending the events, Ivanova said.

STEP was founded in the early 2000s but became especially active in 2017 and currently has more than 150 members. STEP also has a student drive, where students who are moving out of their dorms donate items that would otherwise be thrown away.

Anyone interested in STEP or its volunteer programs should request to join STEP through its Engage page or email Ivanova at nxi85@miami.edu for questions about upcoming volunteer events.