Patricia Moore-Pastides picked up a clouded, empty sauce packet, clamped between the jaws of a long, metal gripping stick.
“Here, this came from Eggroll Chen,” she said of the popular nearby restaurant that was affected by October's floods.
Her husband, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, standing a little lower on the bank of Gills Creek, did the same work, placing pieces of trash into a bag held by University of South Carolina senior Laura Elder, their peer in service.
USC’s first family joined what was expected to be about 250 student volunteers on Saturday’s annual MLK Day of Service, in honor of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Another service day scheduled next Saturday is expected to draw as many as 365 students.
“Developing leaders, I think, requires cultivating a commitment to community service,” Harris Pastides said. “When you look at what an education provides, the book learning and the classroom experience is incomplete preparation for life. ... They’re getting a life lesson, so that when they graduate, I think, they’ll be better prepared for the workforce and to be good neighbors. It’s not only a nice thing to do, it’s a vital part of their own development.”
USC’s days of service are an opportunity for the university to connect with, and give back, to the community that supports its students all year long, Pastides said.
Saturday’s volunteers fanned out across Columbia, working at sites that included the Richland County library downtown, the Belser Arboretum, Hannah House and God’s Storehouse.
“It’s a great way to get to know students, get them involved with other organizations in our school, as well as make them feel they’re part of the USC community,” said Tamaragail Tarrant, a 21-year-old senior who was a service site leader Saturday. “Especially freshmen, because they sometimes have a hard time feeling like they belong. It’s a great way to do service but also create a community.”
Tarrant and the Pastideses were part of a group of about two dozen helping clean up trash from the banks of Gills Creek along Fort Jackson Boulevard, near Garners Ferry Road.
Three months ago, historic rainfall caused the creek, which runs through USC, Fort Jackson and large residential swaths of the Columbia area, to swell mightily from its banks and flood many surrounding areas.
The USC crew worked not far from a Gills Creek Watershed Association crew also cleaning up the creek. Across the parking lot from the creek, Rosewood Crossing, a newly built shopping center, continues to undergo repairs after floodwaters destroyed several stores. The backside of a yellow title loans business still hangs precariously over the opposite side of the eroded creek bank.
“I feel like if you weren’t impacted by (flood), you’ve kind of forgotten about it,” said Lauren Robinson, an environmental assistant for Keep the Midlands Beautiful, which organized the creek cleanup site. “So getting people out here still seeing it, it kind of reminds them, hey, people are still recovering from this. We should come out and help.”
Not far away, in a neighborhood near the Dorn VA Medical Center, another group of 10 USC students painted bedrooms for disabled women living in a group home sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy of South Carolina.
The students’ service has multiple benefits for the community, said Nicolette McCaster, one of the leaders who assists the four women living in the home.
“It’s a help to the ladies, and it gives the community an opportunity to see – most people wouldn’t even know a group home is in their community,” McCaster said. “It’s always important to give back and just bridge that gap of understanding.”
Some of the students were at work putting on a coat of eggshell yellow paint in the room of Debra Elisor, one of the four women who live there. Elisor picked out the color herself and said she was happy the students were there to help.
The students were happy to be there, too.
“It’s a nice thing to just lend a hand,” 21-year-old junior Jack Bowling said. “It’s a pretty great way to spend a Saturday.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.