Due to social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place orders, The Big Event will take place virtually on Saturday.
The annual day of community service coordinates students, faculty, staff and Metroplex residents to volunteer four hours of service on a Saturday in April.
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., said Noel Watts, The Big Event adviser. The Big Event’s student executive board will go live online to teach viewers how to make plastic yarn, which a local non-profit will use to make sleeping mats for the homeless.
Since the event format has changed, Watts said signing up will not be required. Anyone interested in participating should visit the event's webpage, choose a volunteer opportunity, fill out a feedback form and upload a picture of themselves completing the service.
People will also have until the end of the semester to complete the steps and thank you gifts will be sent while supplies last, she said.
Raqeena Waziullah, The Big Event director, said the executive board was already well into preparing for the event when they had to cancel it. The site leaders had received the first round of their two-part training and The Big Event swag, and materials for the sites had already been ordered. The T-shirts were designed and multiple fundraisers had already been held.
Although she had hoped that The Big Event could continue, Waziullah said she and the rest of the executive board had prepared themselves for the inevitable cancellation. Once all university events were officially canceled in response to COVID-19, it was time to switch gears and think of new ways to engage the community.
Each year, The Big Event strives to grow bigger and better. Now in its 20th year, the executive board had hoped to reach a total of 1,200 volunteers, Watts said. Before closing volunteer sign-ups about a month ago in response to COVID-19, 257 volunteers had signed up. About 115 student site leaders were trained to lead and coordinate volunteers at their respective sites.
“I really like the fact that a small group of people can make a big difference in the end,” Waziullah said. “That’s why I keep coming back to The Big Event.”
Volunteers usually offer services at various locations, including Mission Arlington, animal shelters, libraries and parks. This year, The Big Event was set to volunteer at 106 different locations within the Metroplex. Now, that list has been pared down to six: Carter Blood Care, Operation Gratitude, the UTA Food Pantry, Sarah’s Bag Ladies, Be My Eyes and Mission Arlington.
Waziullah said the new opportunities highlight different communities that The Big Event wasn’t hitting before. With Be My Eyes, volunteers can help the blind community, and with Carter Blood Care, volunteers can help mitigate the national blood shortage.
For background information on each site and a breakdown of the remote service opportunities, visit this link.
Adriana Guerra, nursing junior and former Big Event site leader, said she enjoyed volunteering in previous events because she could see firsthand her impact on the community. During The Big Event in 2018, she volunteered at an animal shelter, painting paw prints at the entrance to make the shelter look nicer for guests.
Although it’ll be hard to witness an actual difference without the personal, physical aspect of volunteering with your friends on a Saturday morning, community service is still essential during this unprecedented time of need, she said. [
“If the community is asking you to do something like that and you’re able to do it, then go ahead,” she said.
Watts said it was important that The Big Event continue in some fashion. In its 20 years, she said it’s never been canceled, but it’s faced challenges before. Last year for example, many of the sites had to be modified or moved indoors at the last minute because of severe storms the morning of the event.
This level of change is unprecedented for The Big Event, Watts said, but the executive board wanted to still give volunteers the opportunity to offer service and reward them for their efforts by sending volunteers a T-shirt. Under normal circumstances, The Big Event throws an after party celebration and gives volunteers the T-shirts and other freebies.
“If people do still volunteer, we want to show that their work still matters,” Watts said.
Waziullah said that after going through the stress of last year’s last minute changes, she had prayed all year that this year would run more smoothly during her duration as director.
“I was just hoping that it wouldn’t rain again, that was my biggest worry,” she said. “I really didn’t foresee anything like this happening.”
Nevertheless, she’s glad that she could make the most of the situation.
“It may not be The Big Event that I originally envisioned, but we’re still working hard, and we’re still trying to make something,” she said. “Hopefully, that effort ends up showing out in the end.”