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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Alysha Kester and Nate Bramhall throw outdated electronics into a recycling bin during U Recycle Day at the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 14, 2016. The recycling event was part of Community Engagement Day, a University of Utah tradition that began in 2012 — the year President David W. Pershing was inaugurated. It is designed to celebrate the important relationship between the community and the university.

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah and community groups partnered Thursday to celebrate Community Engagement Day with food drives, free haircuts and opportunities to help others.

Sandi Pershing, the U.'s vice president of engagement and wife of President David Pershing, said the event started as part of her husband's inauguration week in 2012.

"We wanted to really be sure that it was clear that the university values its relationship with the community," she said. "This is a moment to celebrate the relationships that occur and the service and exchanges that happen all year-round."

The event's focus was homelessness and food insecurity.

University groups and community entities gathered at the A. Ray Olpin Student Union building on campus for a "Do-A-Thon."

Some groups encouraged participation, like the Marriott Library's table where participants could build a hygiene kit out of items donated by library staff.

The U.'s Union Programming Council invited Sports Clips to give free haircuts at the event and collected money for the campus Women's Resource Center.

Other areas were set up for students, faculty and staff to tie baby blankets or knit baby hats.

Some groups were looking for awareness of their programs, like Food U, the university's on-campus branch of the Utah Food Bank.

Feed U student intern Nick Knight explained that students, faculty or staff can go to Feed U and get what they need. He said the group sees a lot of students after tuition payments are due and they start to see shortages toward the middle of the semester.

Feed U is mostly self-sufficient, Knight said, but added that it does receive shipments from the Utah Food Bank.

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Community Engagement Day also featured events in the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot, where many were helping out at U Recycle Day. Volunteers collected electronics and personal documents for recycling, as well as donations for the Feed U pantry.

Pershing said service enhances both the community and the university. Students benefit from service because they learn new skills, network, and learn about issues that they and others are facing, she said.

"It's an opportunity to make a difference and really see tangible outcomes of their efforts and really just make an investment in their communities," Pershing said.

Email: elarson@deseretnews.com