Yale students stepped off campus and into local New Haven communities Saturday morning to celebrate a nationwide day of service inspired by Mohandas Gandhi.

The event, which was sponsored by the Yale South Asian Society, drew about 15 volunteers. Students gathered for breakfast at Dwight Hall, where South Asian studies professor Faisal Devji primed them for the day’s events by speaking about Gandhi and his message of service toward displaced groups. Devji said Gandhi emphasized service as an instinctive part of one’s daily routine rather than an attention-seeking activity.

The motto of the event was one of the leader’s well-known quotes — “You must be the change you wish to see in this world.”

Dipa Joshi ’06, the society’s outreach coordinator, said she was inspired by Devji’s speech.

“I think we all really took something from him to wherever we went for the day,” Joshi said.

The aim of Saturday’s activities was to serve several of the New Haven Community’s needs. A group of students spent the day at Casa Otonal in the Hill neighborhood, painting low-income housing for the elderly. At the Community Soup Kitchen, volunteers helped organize paperwork in the morning and served lunch in the afternoon. The third volunteer site was the Eli Whitney Museum, where Yalies helped to assemble educational materials for the many public school students who visit the museum.

South Asian Society President Neema Trivedi ’05 spent Saturday at the Eli Whitney Museum. She said she intends to continue volunteering there.

“I loved it,” Trivedi said. “Lots of us are planning to go back on our own.”

Five years ago, members of the University of Michigan’s Indian American Students Association sponsored the first event of its kind in honor of Gandhi’s commitment to service. Since then, the concept has spread to many college campuses across the country, usually through university-sponsored South Asian societies. One hundred thirty-five colleges and community groups nationwide registered for last Saturday’s activities.

Traditionally, the day of service is held on the Saturday after Gandhi’s birthday, Oct. 2. In the absence of an outreach coordinator, there was no Gandhi Day at Yale last year, although the South Asian Society had organized activities in previous years.

For the South Asian Society, Gandhi Day began an ongoing public service initiative throughout the New Haven area. Students will give presentations on South Asian culture in New Haven public schools on Oct. 17 and 24 as part of a government-sponsored cultural awareness program. There are also plans to organize tours of the Yale campus for South Asian high school students in the Connecticut area who are interested in applying to Yale.

The South Asian Society, which has about 100 active members, would like to assemble as many as 30 to 40 volunteers for next year’s Gandhi Day, Joshi said. The society has also expressed interest in visiting Columbus House, a local homeless shelter and Lighthouse Point Park in the New Haven Harbor.

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