With gloves on and hammers ready, nine students and staff members from the University of Tampa were prepared to work Saturday morning at Metropolitan Ministries.
How could they help, they asked. The answer: build a parking lot.
The shelter's expansion project had claimed one of its former parking lots. An empty lot across the street, used for overflow parking in the past, had become a precious space.
It just needed some attention.
Volunteering for the university's annual service day, dubbed Into the Streets, about 150 students and staff fanned out across the city to lend a hand at various nonprofits Saturday.
Traditionally held during freshman orientation week, the event was rescheduled when the Republican National Convention took over the city last month. The date change allowed the university to open up the event to the entire school for the first time.
"It's a really great opportunity for students to get involved and give back," said Heather Ptak, a student coordinator for the university's PEACE Volunteer Center, which organized the event.
Students at the Salvation Army sorted canned goods and donations. Those who volunteered with Seniors in Service helped clean the grounds of a housing complex for the elderly. At the Ronald McDonald House and Big Cat Rescue, students cleaned and helped with maintenance. The university's basketball team spent time helping with a birthday party at the Glazer Children Museum.
Volunteering is "especially important because many of our students are from out of state and this exposes them to the Tampa community," said Stephanie Russell Krebs, dean of student affairs at UT.
At Metropolitan Ministries, Krebs and fellow volunteers measured and marked parking spaces using nails and yellow caution tape. Others cleared debris and vines from the surrounding chain-linked fence.
Though not your typical volunteer work, building a parking lot had its rewards, Krebs said.
"For something to go from nothing to a parking lot in a matter of three or four hours gives students a sense of accomplishment from working together," she said.
And for Metropolitan Ministries, it's a gift.
"We don't have the staff to do it, so any time we get volunteers from any group, it's a blessing to us," said Denver Weikel, who has done maintenance for the organization for 10 years.
Garrett Hetrick, a senior majoring in international business management, hopes to continue volunteering after graduation.
"I'm looking at companies that are newer and more progressive, like tech companies where I interned," the Wisconsin native said as he plucked vines off an overgrown tree. "Some of them offer employees five days of paid volunteer work."
Rebecca Vaclav, a 19-year-old chemical and environmental science major from Wisconsin, said for her, giving back to the community is how she shows gratitude for everything in her life.
"It's a way for you to earn all the things you have," she said.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2442.