Back the Bend, Mulch Madness return in full

Author: Erin Blasko

Students and community members gather for a picnic at the Robinson Community Learning Center after participating in Back the Bend Service Day 2018. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Back the Bend will return from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (April 2) after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, with volunteers lined up to participate in a variety of projects aimed at maintaining and improving the local community.

Students from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, Holy Cross College, Bethel University, Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University South Bend will assist organizations including the city of South Bend, Unity Gardens and South Bend Bike Garage with tasks ranging from painting and gardening to park and trail cleanup.

They will also participate in Mulch Madness, an annual day of service and outreach to prevent lead poisoning and build awareness of the severity of the problem in South Bend, in support of the Notre Dame Lead Innovation Team.

There, the students will spread mulch around homes with exposed soil in the Near Northwest and River Park neighborhoods to prevent lead exposure and actively canvas the neighborhoods to share information and help families screen for lead in their homes.

The St. Joseph County Health Department will also be on hand to do blood lead testing of kids.

Mary Elizabeth Stern is director of faith and service for Notre Dame Student Government, which organizes Back the Bend in collaboration with the Notre Dame Robinson Community Learning Center. A sophomore, Stern worked closely with senior Erica Maggelet, director of community engagement and outreach for Notre Dame Student Government, to coordinate this year’s event.

“Back the Bend is a wonderful way for the Notre Dame student body, and all local college students, to show care and support for the South Bend community,” Stern said.

She said interest in the event is strong this year, proving a desire among local students to “reconnect” with the South Bend community after two years of pandemic restrictions.

Already, 677 students have signed up for the event, she said, shattering the previous record of 600. More than 300 have signed up for Mulch Madness alone.

Formerly CommUniversity Day, Back the Bend strives to foster long-lasting relationships between students and the local community, consistent with the University’s mission to be a “force for good” in the world.

For more information, including a full list of projects and community partners, visit