Channeling her grandmother’s spirit of volunteerism
Senior Lauren Miller works with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard in Bloomington to provide food and clothing donations to libraries across Indiana that can put them out for people to pick up as needed. Although some rural towns don’t have food pantries, most have a library that can collect donations, Miller said, making it a more accessible way for people to get items like canned goods and clothing.
Food insecurity is a prevalent issue, Miller said, but she doesn't often hear people discuss it openly. The pandemic as well as inflation and recession have also contributed to a rise in food insecurity. Miller said she sees this issue particularly in college students.
“A lot of college students’ funds tend to be pretty tight,” Miller said. “When they don’t have that money, one of the first things to go is going to be the quality of the food and the amount of food that you eat, because it’s expensive and it’s only gotten more expensive. I think it gets overshadowed by the ‘rich college student’ ideology.”
Mother Hubbard's also helps Bloomington's unhoused community, Miller said. Bloomington's most recent Food Access Report from Sept. 21 stated one in ten Bloomington residents cannot access the food they need, and 45 percent need more of at least one type of food. Miller said she sees many people go without food because they don’t have access to a food pantry or feel ashamed to visit one.
“People who need help don’t want to ask, especially about food, because it’s just a sensitive subject,” she said. “It’s something that a lot of people go through and they go through silently.”
Along with the library initiative, Miller also works with the garden center at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, helping teach people the value of growing their own produce. The garden center often gives produce-bearing plants to clients, a tangible way to share the impact of the work in the community, Miller said.
Miller became interested in volunteer work after her grandmother — who had contributed nearly 100,000 hours to a local hospital over her lifetime — passed away. Giving back to her community is a way to honor her grandmother’s legacy.
“I see that and I think in a lot of ways, she’s probably one of the kindest women I’ve ever known,” Miller said. “I’m trying to bring the spirit of her into the volunteer work that I do.”
During the 2021-22 academic year, Miller also worked with IU’s Student Agile Response Team at the Huntington City-Township Public Library in Huntington, Indiana. After renovations in 2018 and 2019 that expanded the building, the library was in need of signage that was accessible to all patrons, many of whom cannot read. Miller helped the library plan out and design image-based signage to guide visitors through the building.
“No one knew where to go for pretty much anything at the library, which obviously was a problem,” Miller said. “Some of the signs they had up were paper signs with words on them, but if you’re illiterate, that’s not super helpful. What they needed was to create some signage that was inclusive and was able to direct patrons to the areas which would most benefit them.”
In addition to the signs, Miller created a variety of virtual maps of the library to help visitors better see and understand the area. These maps were often used in PowerPoints during library programming and events.
Miller said designing the signage gave her the opportunity to learn about graphic design and digital software programs such as Adobe Illustrator and 3-D modeling for the first time.
“It made me a lot more interested in graphic design and the ways in which various graphic design software could be used,” she said.
Miller said many people do not think about accessibility until they are in a situation like the library’s, where accessibility needs extra consideration.
“Then you’re actually faced with that situation when you’re the owner of a building or of some kind of facility and then you do realize that’s a problem,” Miller said. “You can see it all around us, accessibility— in your malls, your airports. They have all these accessibility features where it’s like, when you start to notice it, you notice it everywhere.”
Miller said she believes those who have the time and capacity to volunteer have a duty to ensure their community is as well-rounded as possible and receives the help it needs to thrive.
“If you can help the people who have the least, then the whole community is better off.”