Carolina Cares marks 40 years of compassion
On December 10, 1969, the University's freshman class started a public service project known as Carolina Cares. That day, several hundred Carolina students canvassed the Greater Columbia area and collected money, food, clothes, and toys for various charitable groups during the holiday season.
What started as a project for the entire freshman class 40 years ago is still going strong.
Here’s proof: for this holiday season, Carolina Cares organized and collected more than 1,200 stockings stuffed with toys and personal care items given by University faculty, staff, and students. The stockings were donated to the Salvation Army for distribution to area children in need.
“Carolina Cares is an opportunity for the University to care about and help its neighbors,” said Jerry Brewer, a Carolina graduate who participated in Carolina Cares as a student and is now associate vice president for student affairs.
“Helping people in places around the world—like Darfur, for example–is wonderful. But there are so many people that we pass on the street here in Columbia who need a little help, and that is what Carolina Cares is about.”
Over the years, the effort has focused on many things, including fundraising, food drives, and Christmas gifts for entire families. Students began Carolina Cares, and students continue to run it.
Steve Cannon, who was president of the 1969 freshman class, was instrumental in getting the whole thing started.
"We thought we should do a service project, something to help people in the Midlands," said Cannon, who now practices corporate law in the firm of Constantine Cannon in Washington, D.C. "My original thought was to collect canned goods and call it Carolina Can Do. But then we thought, 'If we're going to go to all this trouble, let's collect everything we can and help everyone we can.
"That’s when we decided to call it Carolina Cares," Cannon said. "A lot of student volunteers got involved, and University staff, and members of the community. For example, the Burger King on College Street agreed to feed all the volunteers that day. We were very organized and ran it like a military operation. The Marine Reserve came with us and drove collection trucks, and we used buses from the University's motor pool to move all the donated items.
"That first year we collected between $5,000 and $10,000. We took two Marine Corps trucks to the local Kmart and bought almost all of the toys in the place," Cannon said. "We filled up the two trucks with brand new toys and gave them to the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. Other items went to the Salvation Army. It got bigger each year after that.
"When we started it all, we thought we had a winner," he said, "but it never occurred to me that 40 years later it would be still going."
"Carolina Cares still gives students and student organizations the chance to help members of the community during the holidays," said international business and finance junior Jennifer Conner, who is director of Carolina Cares this academic year and has been involved with the Carolina Service Council since her freshman year.
“The activity culminates with the Carolina tree lighting ceremony on the Horseshoe. This year at the tree lighting, we had speakers from the Salvation Army and the Nurturing Center, the two groups we are working with this season. We’re also participating in Adopt-A-Family, a program sponsored by the Nurturing Center.”
During its four decades of generosity and compassion, Carolina Cares has been energized by countless students, faculty, and staff.
“There have been a lot of really good people who have been involved in this over the years,” Brewer said. “Carolina Cares always brings together people from different areas of the University. We’re a diverse community, but we can all agree on this as a worthy project."