For the last 10 years, Valentine's Day has been especially memorable at University of the Ozarks thanks to the Love Bandits, an intrepid group of students dressed in Valentine-themed costumes and accompanied by acoustic guitars who deliver flowers and singing valentines to lucky recipients on campus.
In 2003, Eric Leon, the assistant director of international studies, was a senior at Ozarks and a member of SIFE (now ENACTUS). He began brainstorming with his fellow members about ways to raise money for the organization.
"I came to Ozarks with a good friend of mine from the same high school in Panama," Leon said. "At our high school, we had a flower sale during Valentine’s Day, and it was a huge fundraiser. When we got to Ozarks and my friend became SIFE president, we thought we’d try it out as a way to raise money."
That first year, the organization took flower orders and the president of SIFE dressed up in a funny costume to deliver the gifts.
"We just had one Love Bandit that first year, the SIFE president, but it was so successful that we added more and more Love Bandits. This year, we expect to have a group of about seven students, with several more that will rotate into the group, delivering flowers and singing valentines all over campus," Leon said.
The Love Bandits serenade Admission Office Manager Emma Lee Morrow during their Valentine’s Day fundraiser.
Ten years later, the tradition that started as an off-the-cuff fundraising idea has morphed into a major production and considerable source of profit for ENACTUS. The group offers everything from a single flower to chocolates to special deliveries from the Love Bandits, which includes an on-the-spot performance of a special song for the recipient.
"The students who will be playing the actual Love Bandits have already started practicing their songs," Leon said. "Usually, they take popular love songs and switch up the lyrics to make them funny or particularly fitting. They will have something like seven or eight songs to choose from for each delivery."
These days, ENACTUS fills and delivers around 500 Valentine orders every year. The logistics of coordinating such an event require an "all hands on deck" attitude from ENACTUS members.
"The logistics of organizing something so big are incredible," Leon said. "When we receive the orders, they go into a database. We’ll have students responsible for managing and updating that database. We order the flowers in bulk. Once they’re delivered, we separate them out, put them in water with a little aspirin for two days to make sure they bloom fully and last longer. We cut them, wrap them, and write up the messages for each order. Then, we have to coordinate delivery schedules. In addition to having set times for each delivery, we also have to line-up contingency plans, in case the recipient isn’t where they were expected to be. We do all of this for hundreds of orders in just the few short days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Then, on Valentine’s Day, we start delivering at 8 am and usually finish up by 4 pm."
During the few days leading up the Valentine’s Day, anywhere from 30 to 35 members of ENACTUS will be involved in the Love Bandits’ Valentine’s Day fundraiser.
"I never thought we’d still be doing this 10 years later," Leon confessed. "But, it is a huge success, and I’m glad to be a part of it."