Mulch Madness

Author: Mackenzie Kelleher

Students in the community spread mulch for the Mulch Madness event."

The university has a long-standing commitment to being a force for good in the world. During this year’s 13th annual Back the Bend event, over 550 students set out into the South Bend community to live out this commitment through a day full of service. Whether the day was spent making lunches at the Ronald McDonald House of Michiana or volunteering at Hope Ministries, the concerted efforts of the student body made a real impact on Saturday, March 23, 2024.

Back the Bend is the student government’s annual university-wide day of service, and its goal is to “build relationships and maintain relationships with the community,” according to Kate Jackowski, director of community outreach for Notre Dame Student Government. “This year, one of my goals in my position was to work with as diverse a group of partners as possible,” said Jackowski. This goal was clearly prioritized as students served at 25 different sites around the community — the most organizations Back the Bend has ever partnered with.

One of the most impactful projects of Back the Bend is Mulch Madness, a lead poisoning prevention initiative. This year, over 170 volunteers were stationed around South Bend, shovels and wheelbarrows in hand, mulching locations such as St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church, the new community playground, Unity Gardens and 40 different homes in the area. The fresh layers of soil provided these locations with an aesthetic new look, but the impact of this hands-on work goes much deeper. The high soil lead levels in South Bend neighborhoods are a major concern that this initiative addresses by adding mulch to encase the contaminated soil.

“Only one of the houses we mulched had soil in the ‘safe’ range…, which goes to show how important it is to continue to raise awareness around the lead problem in South Bend neighborhoods,” said junior Sean Miller, one of the co-directors of Mulch Madness. “Lead contamination, especially in early childhood development stages, is very harmful and causes damage to the brain and behavioral development,” he said.

During Back the Bend, it is important to remember the purpose behind the services provided. Fellow co-director Alex Brandt put it best when he reminded the volunteers, “We really do it for the children more than anything.”

Back the Bend continues to be a crucial way for Notre Dame students to connect with the greater South Bend community and to help realize the university’s goal of being a force for good. Leaders of Back the Bend hope that this day serves as an entry point into service for many students in order to extend these enthusiastic efforts toward our community on a more regular basis.