Toll Day may look different this year, but mission remains the same

Publication Date

For more than two decades, members of the Union community have fanned out across Schenectady on a Saturday in the fall as part of a College-wide community service project.

Volunteers clean up parks, public spaces and provide other help as needed. Coordinated by the College’s Kenney Community Center, the day strengthens Union’s commitment to the city through these service opportunities.

Started in 1996, the event has been known as John Calvin Toll Day since 2001.

Union volunteers participate in last year's John Calvin Toll Day.

Union volunteers participate in last year's John Calvin Toll Day.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s event on Saturday, Oct. 31, will feature a mix of remote opportunities and a few in person for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Among the in-person opportunities are working with ReTree Schenectady to plant trees on Lenox Avenue, and general cleanups of the South Avenue park and the Jackson’s Garden Hans Groot Kill.

Remote opportunities include making fleece blankets and tissue paper flowers for local nursing home residents, crafting friendship bracelets and letters for local children, and writing letters to soldiers.

Volunteers can sign up to participate. Registration closes on Oct. 24.

“The need for volunteer help continues during the pandemic,” said Janet Sweeney, interim director of community outreach. “Although we cannot send large groups out into the community this year, we have found other creative ways for our Toll Day volunteers to safely contribute their time and energy.”

She notes that all events will follow safety protocols including masks, other PPE and social distancing.

Toll Day is Union’s biggest single day of community service, generating support from Greek Life, Athletics, clubs, organizations and many individuals. Sweeney said more than 150 have already signed up.

John Calvin Toll was a member of Union’s first graduating class in 1799. The community service project is supported by a gift from Al Hill ‘46 and his wife, Perrie. Toll was the great-great-grandfather of Hill, a retired attorney from Buffalo who died in 2007. The Hills created the fund to encourage Union students to undertake volunteer service.

“We believe that the experiences from this activity will carry over beyond graduation and enrich not only those they serve but also the volunteers,” said Hill when the gift was announced.

Toll Day comes as the Kenney Community Center celebrates its 20th anniversary. The Ralph ’29 and Marjorie Kenney Community Center was dedicated in 2000 with a donation from Mrs. Kenney in memory of her husband.

Among recent events, Kenney sent volunteers on Oct. 1 to the Goose Hill Neighborhood Book Giveaway just a mile from campus to set up, help kids pick books and clean up. On Oct. 3, Union volunteers set up food tents and replenished supplies at the SiCM Farm Market. Volunteers also have planted crops and cleaned up farm beds at Vale Urban Farm and Fehr Avenue Farm on recent weekends.