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Surbhi Madia says that organizing the Winter Warmth from U clothing drive helped her refocus her priorities.

Surbhi Madia: U senior does her share to generate warmth

U senior does her share to generate warmth

by Rick Moore

From M, spring 2004

Surbhi Madia lives by a few credos. Some are strongly influenced by her family; most are rooted in simple humanitarianism. As her undergraduate days at the University melt away, one philosophy seems particularly relevant. "Life is really short and I don't ever want to look back at a period of time and say that I wasn't the person that I wanted to be," says Madia. Unless she's awfully hard on herself, she must be happy with 2003. Early last year, on a chilly (temperature-wise) date downtown with her boyfriend, Maida and fellow U senior John Barber, decided that if they were cold underneath all their gear, it must be especially miserable for those in need of warm clothing. Thus was born their idea for the surprisingly successful Winter Warmth from U clothing drive. During the last three weeks of November, dormitories and University offices collected enough clothing to fill the equivalent of four full-sized public transit buses and six 15-passenger vans. In a ceremony, complete with hot chocolate, in front of Coffman Memorial Union, the organizers passed the clothing on to Pillsbury United Communities for distribution around the Twin Cities. "The warmth that people exhibited was so beautiful and appreciated," Madia says of the drive. "It was humbling--the whole experience."

"At college we lead such busy lives; it's very self-centered," Madia says. "My classes, my workout, my friends. Everything is about 'me.' I think it's really important to remind yourself that there's so much more out there."

She apparently inherited some of her own humility and kindness from her parents. "My mom is the person who brings the immigrant workers at Taco Bell presents," she says with a grin. "Christmas will come and I'll say, 'Mom, who's this for?' and she'll say 'Taco Bell.'" Madia's father, for his part, will randomly provide business clothes for people he feels are in need. Madia's mother, in fact, jump-started the clothing drive by buying a couple of big bags of clothing shortly after Madia and Barber thought of the concept. At that point, Madia says she realized "this can't just be an idea." "I'm really proud of the Winter Warmth event," says Madia. "I'm proud of all the work I put into it and the turnout." And the rewards were well worth all the hard work: "In the last six months of [helping coordinate the clothing drive], I have learned more than I did in all of college," she says. It's not that she slacks off in college, either. A psychology major and honors student who plans to teach elementary school before obtaining a doctorate in psychology, Madia considers herself very studious. But the clothing drive helped her refocus her priorities--even though it meant getting a "B" in her honors statistics class, a fact she reveals with mock horror. "At college we lead such busy lives; it's very self-centered," she says. "My classes, my workout, my friends. Everything is about 'me.' I think it's really important to remind yourself that there's so much more out there." As for goodwill, Madia has a philosophy on that, too. She says she strives to be as nice as possible with everyone she encounters each day. Then humor lightens her self-assessment and she flashes another of her frequent smiles. "I don't know how much I adhere to that every day," she says. "I'm not the sweetest driver. In fact, I think all my philosophies go out the window when I'm in the car."

To read about the scope of homelessness in Minnesota, including the 121 people who died on the streets in 2003, see http://www1.umn.edu/umnnews/Feature_Stories/Sleeping_and_dying_on_Minnesota_streets.html.