Making a difference, one meal at a time

SPARK volunteer sits with homeless man in restaurant

“Any act of kindness can begin to change someone’s life,” says Mitchell Granger (right), founder of Students Performing Acts of Random Kindness.

 

It doesn’t take a lot to change someone’s day for the better.

Whether it’s giving a smile to a stranger on the bus who’s had a rough day or holding a door open for a mother at the grocery store, people are doing good things all around us.

UIC students are improving people’s lives with homemade sandwiches.

Mitchell Granger, a junior in communications and member of the UIC men’s tennis team, is the creator of Students Performing Acts of Random Kindness (SPARK).

“I was tired of the amount of inaction I was seeing in myself and those around me, so I began thinking of ways to make a difference,” Granger said.

What he thought of was SPARK, a group of students who come together twice a week to prepare food, such as sandwiches and chips, for the homeless. Students organize the food, then hit the streets to deliver it.

“I like the idea of the spark starting a fire,” Granger said. “That’s what this group is; a collection of tiny sparks capable of igniting a fire.”

Granger approached teammates and other UIC athletes and pitched the idea of SPARK to them in November.

Maximilian Cederkall, a junior in marketing and member of the men’s tennis team, decided to join to give back.

“I’ve always had that urge to help people who are less fortunate than me, and SPARK was an easy and direct way to do that,” he said.

Anne Jacobsen, a senior majoring in chemistry and member of the UIC women’s swimming and diving team, was also inspired to join.

“A few years ago I made it my life’s mission to positively impact as many people during my lifetime and SPARK is a great way to do just that,” said Jacobsen, president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

After SPARK’s first mission in late November, people started to notice what the students were doing. So Granger and the rest of his team created a Facebook page, produced a few viral YouTube videos and started SPARK.

While most of the members of the group are athletes, anyone can join.

“One of our goals is to start incorporating more non-athletes,” he said. “As we are a new group, we’re still in the planning process for recruiting new members.”

What started as a small group of eight has quickly grown and gained exposure. Thanks to two features on FOX News Chicago and another on WCIU, the group has received about $4,200 in donations.

“The first few times we packed sack lunches we split the cost between the volunteers,” Jacobsen said.

The group now has 50 members and goes on two missions a week to feed the homeless, rain or shine. Granger estimates that students feed about 50 people each week.

“Generally, we target State Street in the Loop, as well as Michigan Avenue,” Granger said. “With more resources and volunteer help we will begin to expand to other parts of the city.”

The group plans to expand its “acts of random kindness” by passing out winter coats, too.

Still, Granger isn’t satisfied. The group is in the process of getting their 501(c)(3) license to officially become a nonprofit organization. They are also working on trademarking their name and logo so SPARK can be implemented in other universities.

The organization has left a lasting impression on its members.

“I think other students should join SPARK because it’s so rewarding,” said Cederkall. “Everyone I’ve talked to who’s been on a mission to feed the homeless says the same thing: it feels really good to help others.”

Anyone can make an impact, Granger said.

“So many people talk about changing the world or helping others,” said Granger. “I am hoping SPARK will shatter that barrier between talk and action.

“As small as it may be, any act of kindness can begin to change someone’s life. In the end, all it takes is a ‘spark.’”