When cadet Deepro Sarkar, a senior in Army ROTC, arrived at War Memorial in early September to retrieve a package, he figured that would be the only thing he would take with him that day.

He didn’t realize he’d also be leaving with a great idea for the semester’s service project for his Echo Company within the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.

More than 18,000 student packages have been received on campus since late August. Mail Services continues to work around-the-clock to process and administer the hundreds, and in some instances, thousands of packages that arrive each day at Virginia Tech.

While Mail Services is prepared for the large quantity of packages that arrive each fall, this year’s back-to-school shipments were extra immense due to increased online shopping during COVID-19. The high volume of back-to-school packages coupled with national carrier delays have made it especially challenging for Mail Services to anticipate the numbers of packages arriving each day and to be able to expeditiously process and administer them to students.

Thankfully, a major boost to the package distribution process has come in the form of enthusiastic cadet volunteers from the corps’ Echo Company and its Citizen-Leader Track program for cadets interested in the corps’ leader development opportunities but without a military obligation after graduation. Both groups selected Mail Services’ package operation as their service project this semester.

“When I was first retrieving my packages in War Memorial, I realized how difficult Mail Services’ job was based on the sheer volume of packages they receive every day. Rather than complain about package delays, I figured I could step up and help. I also knew my company was looking for a service project, and this one would enable us to have a positive impact on the university community and our fellow students and company members,” said Sarkar, who is majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Maintaining physical distancing and physical hygiene and donning face coverings, cadets continue to help locate, carry, process, and hand out packages to students at the War Memorial Gym package operation. In small teams, each unit spent three full workdays volunteering.

The Citizen-Leader Track “has always been dedicated to helping out the community. Today, COVID-19 is amplifying the need for increased volunteerism to support others. With the high volume of packages arriving at Mail Services every day, it has been rewarding to see our cadets helping to solve a problem that impacts the entire university,” said cadet Claire Seibel, a junior majoring in biological systems engineering within the College of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In a reflection of the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), each of the corps’ 13 companies finds, plans, and completes at least one service project each semester. In addition, corps’ organizations and many individual cadets complete separate projects, as well. For example, Citizen-Leader Track cadets also work with the American Red Cross to host two multiday blood drives each semester.

Cadets’ strong work ethic and follow-through made them excellent candidates to partner with to help relieve the package backlog according to Doug Epps, manager for Mail Services.

“Mail Services is grateful for the countless hours and hard work Corps of Cadets members continue to lend assisting with package operations. Through their cooperation, we have made strides in getting students their packages efficiently and promptly. We continue to be inspired by these corps members’ can-do attitudes, problem-solving skills, and Ut Prosim spirit,” said Epps.

In the ever-evolving COVID-19 environment, volunteering has had an anchoring effect for many cadets, connecting them to their communities, each other, and normal routines.

“During COVID-19, in so many instances, it has been volunteers who have filled the gaps when it comes to responding to community needs. Service, even simply lending a hand in the mail room, can drive our communities forward in many positive ways,” said cadet Kaysan Frueh, a first-year student in Air Force ROTC and a member of Echo Company. Frueh is double majoring in national security and foreign affairs and Spanish within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Cadet Diego Sheng, an Echo Company sophomore in Army ROTC majoring in real estate, within the Pamplin College of Business, shares these sentiments.

“I wanted to get involved in helping with package operations because I know how much people, including myself, value the reliability of receiving mail on time. I wanted to help get students their mail just a little bit faster. Service is an important part of life and with COVID-19 it has become even more essential,” said Sheng.

“The world we are living in today has changed a lot in the past months, and I truly believe that we as a community should come together and help each other. If giving a couple of hours makes someone else’s day a bit easier, then it is worth it,” said Claudia McCarthy, a junior in the Citizen-Leader Track majoring in building construction technology within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

While carrying and locating packages — containing everything from ear buds to futons — can be physically demanding and frenetic at times, many corps members found themselves having a good time.

“Helping with the package delivery process was so much fun. I am a firm believer that hard work soothes the soul. Simply being busy and having fun tracking down the packages and running around War Memorial made my day,” said Freuh.

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