Students spend winter break giving back

EMU’s Alternative Spring Breaks program sent nine groups to areas along the east side of the country.

With thousands of people going hungry every day, are you doing anything to change that? Along with nine other people, I spent my spring break in Philadelphia to make my mark in the fight against hunger.

We weren’t the only group active during that time frame. Eastern Michigan University’s VISION center participates in a national movement headed by Break Away, which is dedicated to creating lifelong active citizens in the community.

The EMU branch of Alternative Spring Breaks sent nine groups to dedicate themselves. The groups went all across the east side of the country, to Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Illinois.

Food access wasn’t the only issue our groups faced; the focus was on anything from harm reduction and HIV prevention to civil rights and youth education.

All the groups met up before to kick off our week of service and to provide more detail about what each was doing. The Echo’s own comics editor, Christine “Crass” Deneweth, led a group to Falls Church, Va., in support of animal rights and sustainability.

The trip really started for me when I got to know each of my participants during our 10-hour minivan drive. The traveling began March 3 and our service started the next day.

Our service began at Share Food Program. We met an interesting group from Iowa, and together we packaged over 500 boxes for citizens in the Montgomery County. The boxes consisted of items like canned vegetables, fruits and beef, dry milk, juice, peanut butter, cereal and noodles.

With the amount of privilege many of us have, the boxes may not seem that appealing, but they come with everything needed for survival. The senior citizens receiving the boxes will benefit from what they receive.

“It taught me to appreciate everything that I have a little bit more, and to take advantage of every opportunity that I have to give back to someone else,” said Keith James, an ASB participant.

The only problem is not every senior citizen in need will receive a box. The program is on a rotating
basis because of the funds needed to sustain it.

The Share Food Program also provides a menu with reduced prices, which is open to everyone who would need it. The best part is that the program keeps the cost low by enlisting volunteers. Each time a package is purchased, the customer has to work two hours in the warehouse. Not only are they being helped by being allowed reduced prices, but they also give back and continue the fight against hunger.

We were at the Share Food Program for only one day, but we spent the remainder of our week at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization, working with various groups and amazing workers.

The people who work there are some of the most inspiring individuals that I have ever met.
From Gerald in the volunteer room, to George, Damien and everyone else in the warehouse; they have all impacted my experience and fueled my passion to fight hunger.

We worked on absolutely anything that needed to be done. We sorted out items from food drives and weighed and boxed baking items, pastas, cereals, snack foods and even breakfast items.

Although it was cold in some areas, the EMU group really pushed through it. We didn’t do this alone though. Our ASB volunteers teamed up with other groups such as Holderness School (Plymouth, N.H.).

“People should volunteer just in general to be a blessing to others,” said Ariel Fisher, a Philly participant. “The smile you’re able to see on individual’s faces who need the help is rewarding in itself.”

Not only did we volunteer to impact hunger, but some of the people on our trip helped firsthand.

While sight-seeing, we saw not only the structures in the city but we saw people affected by hunger and homelessness.

“It’s not fair that if you don’t have enough money to buy food, you go hungry,” said Jessica Amey, a Philly participant. “It’s a human right to have food. It’s a right, not a privilege.”

We were a very privileged group and always had food around us. Whenever our participants had more food than they needed, they gave it away. It felt good to know people on the group with me were so affected that they wanted to impact the world on a more personal level.

“It was really eye opening because you don’t really think about hunger here in the U.S.,” said Laura Klocinski, a Philly participant. “It was really sad to see all the people that were hungry, but it was also encouraging to see all the people that wanted to help and it made me want to do more to help.”

We know our week-long trip has not ended hunger, but we are also fully aware that as long as there are volunteers in the world this issue can be squashed. Together we can beat hunger and other issues that affect us.

“Working with Philabundance and Share Foods has shown me a passion for volunteering that I’ve never experienced,” said Laura Gajda, a Philly participant. “I’ve never known the little amount of work that can go such a far way in helping to feed a family.”

If this experience has jump-started something within you, there is something you can do about it.

The VISION office on campus always has volunteer opportunities, and you can spend your next spring break affecting a community. Applications are usually available in the fall, but it doesn’t stop there.

Become an active citizen in your community. Get out and do something.

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