When Drew O’Donnel began volunteering at Food for Thought in Oregon, Ohio, he found himself wanting to share his experiences with other University of Toledo students.Food for Thought is an organization that makes lunches on Friday evenings for homeless individuals in the Toledo area and delivers them on Saturday mornings. Because of its location in Oregon, some students were unable to get to the organization — which is why O’Donnel helped create Bridge Club.
“It bridges the gap between students on campus and the community,” O’Donnel said. “We wanted students to see what was going on outside in the community that they live in and to be able to make an effect on that.”
Bridge Club was created by O’Donnel and other members of his fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon in spring 2012. The on-campus organization supplements Food for Thought by providing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by students at UT.
“We were expecting what anybody expects for their first meeting for a new, potential organization, about 10 to 20 people maybe,” O’Donnel said. “We ended up having 85 students come.”
Because the program was so successful, O’Donnel took it over that summer as part of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fellow challenge. The project requires 500 hours of service or a 60-day project that has to meet a need in the community and have the ability to continue even after the fellow graduates.
O’Donnel was the first person from UT to be recognized as a brother fellow by Sigma Phi Epsilon and is one of only about 25 to be recognized nationally to date. He also was nominated for a UT Jefferson Award by his fraternity brother Brandon Stewart and awarded the honor in October.
“The SigEp world sees what he is doing, but I wanted the Toledo community to see what he was doing,” Stewart said. “As a mentor to me, I didn’t see any better fit for the Jefferson Award.”
O’Donnel does more than make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; he also volunteers with Tent City, UT’s Big Event and UT Student Wellness Awareness Team, and has served on a mission trip to Haiti. He also is president of UT’s chapter of Blue Key National Honor Society and a mentor in his fraternity.
“Not only does he excel in community service, he excels in academics and serves as a role model,” Stewart said.
O’Donnel, a senior physical therapy student from Miamisburg, Ohio, said his favorite aspect of volunteering to help the homeless is talking with them.
“It’s about a lot more than what we are physically handing people — it’s about those friendships and relationships that are formed,” O’Donnel said. “What we’re giving is way more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
To nominate someone for a Jefferson Award, visit utoledo.edu/jeffersonaward.