ANDERSON -- The Anderson University students walk right into the kitchen after making the trip from campus. While tossing their coats over chairs by the door, they’re welcomed by hellos and questions about how they’ve been.
Between the greetings, the rising sound of various conversations on top of each other and the smell of cooking food floating in the air, it feels just like visiting home for the holidays.
But it’s not Christmas, and the students aren’t visiting family at home – not technically.
A group of about 20 AU students walk from campus to the Christian Center every Friday to volunteer. From about 4:15 to 7 p.m., they cook, dine, do dishes, chat and play games with the men at the shelter.
It’s not a conventional family or friendship, but the volunteers and residents say those relationship aspects play into their time together.
“We have relationships with them and we enjoy spending time with them,” AU freshman Ellie Stockert said. “It’s not like I’m sacrificing anything.”
The group is part of a campus ministry, and student coordinator Kacie McGuire said the number of volunteers has rapidly grown this school year.
Only a handful of students volunteered in the 2012-13 school year, compared to the 20 regulars this year. McGuire said she thinks the ministry has picked up momentum in part because of word of mouth.
Sophomore Stephen Morris said he heard an older friend say that volunteering at the Christian Center is what made her love AU. He didn’t know what she meant until he started volunteering there.
He said the biggest takeaway is he gets to know God better.
McGuire said that’s the point of the ministry.
“Jesus has called us to come and to love and serve people,” she said. “Those shrugged under the rug are the ones who need us the most. That’s a huge reason I’ve stuck with this.”