Coming into this week I was incredibly ignorant on the subject of hunger in general, but even more so pertaining to the issue of domestic hunger. I wasn’t aware of the significant and growing numbers of Americans that are going hungry every day. This led to two major revelations for me this past week: the first was just becoming aware of the major problem that hunger is in the United States and the second was culture shock of being exposed to hungry individuals from Saint Louis and the surrounding areas. With that being said, I enjoyed every part of this past week. From working at City Seeds Urban Farm to participating in Operation Food Search’s backpack initiative, it was all a lot of fun and did a lot of good in the Saint Louis community. When I arrive on the Elon campus in January, I will definitely be looking for opportunities to work with the Campus Kitchen to help feed local families and end hunger one meal at a time.
Since reading our agenda, I’d really been looking forward to our week in Saint Louis. Not only have I visited the city before, but a lot of my family is from the area. Because of these reasons, I already loved this place and couldn’t wait to experience even more. One of my favorite afternoons we spent at an elementary school. The fifteen of us waited out in the field while the different grades took turns coming out to join us. Half of the class would stay at the garden and pick tomatoes. The half would come with my group. We sat in the shade and read educational books about flowers and plant life. I let the kids choose whichever book they wanted and then helped them read it out loud. Each group was unique and amazing. The kids were so cute, and so smart, too! A majority of them had a great sense of humor as well. We laughed together and learned about flowers and seasons all afternoon. Spending such a carefree afternoon with the children of this elementary school was so much fun!
Today for our first day of service in St. Louis we went to City Seeds Urban Farm, a plot of land composed of several vegetable-producing garden beds. For most of the morning I did some weeding at the ends of the garden beds. I was able to interact a little bit with the clients who were also working in the garden. These clients were part of a therapeutic horticulture program provided to individuals who were dealing with a number of possible issues. I spoke with one man about where he grew about and about how he got involved in the program. After lunch, we traveled to a local elementary school. The purpose of this visit was to teach different groups of children about growing healthy fresh food in gardens. We also helped them harvest some of their ripe vegetables. I was in charge of showing the children sweet potatoes and lettuce. Because there were limited vegetables to harvest, we had to work hard to keep all the children occupied. There were difference people at each garden bed to tell them what was growing. In addition, some of us read books to the children and played games with them. Overall, this day was tiring but enjoyable. We got a good introduction to gardening at City Seeds and we were able to educate children about healthy eating habits.
Something that I had a ton of fun with this week was work at Operation Food Search packing backpacks for children who don’t have enough food to get by on the weekends. We worked in an assembly line fashion to pack these backpacks with lots of different snacks and foods. I personally had the glorious job of gingerly placing mac and cheese and soup in the back pack and passing it on. Sounds easy right? Wrong. It took us awhile to figure everything out and get the line flowing smoothly. We had a lot of pileups because the line was set up so certain jobs went faster than others. However, we got everyone one on the same page and started pumping out backpacks and in that matter of a few hours packed 1,149 backpacks to be delivered to kids in the area. This activity stuck out for me because not only was it fun but I couldn’t personally imagine having to go home on the weekend and wonder whether or not I would get to eat. I felt glad that I got to give someone out there the same security I take for granted every day, even if just for a little while. I only wish I could have done more.
This past week the group and I ventured to St. Louis to tackle the city’s longstanding bout with poverty and hunger. In order to combat these issues we teamed up with organizations predominantly centralized around using gardening as means to heal both people and the city. We spent four mornings working on City Seeds Urban Farm, a program designed to train homeless and underserved individuals in green jobs. Not only does CSUF serve as a gateway to finding work for their clients, they also include a therapeutic program, to assist in tackling mental illnesses, PTSD, and drug addiction. Interacting with clients and swapping personal stories allowed me to make a more intimate connection with the issues we were there to help combat. All of the clients received us very well and were grateful for our assistance.
We also worked with Food Outreach, the only organization in the greater St. Louis area that provides food to underserved individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS or cancer. This unique experience allowed me to experience the humbling feeling of interacting directly with people who are terminally ill. I entered the day expecting to leave with a heavy sadness due to sympathizing with the clients, but instead I left with a greater appreciation for everyday that I’m alive; inspired by their vitality and hopeful outlooks on their situations. During the week we also worked with a campus kitchen that repurposed food that could no longer be sold, and cooked it into meals for low-income persons living in the nearby area. Ultimately, I took away from this week that there a multitude of ways to give back to those in need in my community, and I plan to reach out in the future.
Wednesday the whole group went to spend the day at Food Outreach. There we had the options to work in the kitchen preparing food as well as working in the front of the center with the clients. Fortunately, I got to work in both areas. For the morning, I was in the back working in the kitchen washing and cutting vegetables for clients to bring home for salad as well as vegetables to go into soup. The coolest part about the vegetables was that they were ones we had harvested earlier that week at City Seeds Urban Farm. We got to see where the food ended up. The second half of my day was spent up front mini mart style. Clients came in and filled out an order as we gathered that order and documented what they got in the computer. Being able to help them even in this small way was very enlightening as well as rewarding. Every single client I worked with was extremely appreciative of the little help I offered.
The highlight of my day was right after I was assigned to work at the computers. I was very slow at ringing up what the clients had ordered; finding the sheets to scan them in as, counting all of the items, and documenting it into their files. The second client was so friendly, I explained to him that I was still trying to get the hang of the register and to my surprise, he knew more about it than I did. As I was ringing in the items, he showed me what buttons to press and what barcodes to use. In his spare time, he volunteered to help at Food Outreach. I found this inspiring that during the infrequent free time he has, he gives that little time to help out the organization he and others, some terminally ill, depend on.
Willingness and determination was what I saw in the people I worked with on my service week in St. Louis. I have never seen such kind people accepting of the work we are doing to help them. My favorite part of the week was being a grocer at Food Outreach, a program that helps clients with HIV/AIDS and cancer. I had the opportunity to talk to people as I scanned and checked out their food for the week. One woman I talked to thanked me about ten times before she left my counter because she was so grateful that we were able to provide her husband who has cancer with food that is nutritious and will help get him through the week. This made my day that I was able to help people in a very big way.
The speaker this week was very knowledgeable about hunger and homelessness which game me a new look on this ongoing issue in the United States. She works at Washington University in St. Louis to council people on this issue and help them through their problem of homelessness and hunger. I had a very rewarding week working on the City Seeds Urban Farm, helping kids at a local Elementary School, Food Outreach, and Campus Kitchen. This was my favorite week so far and I hope all the weeks to come are this rewarding in the end.
My week in St. Louis has been the best week for me, so far. Although, the days were jam-packed, I felt that we impacted a lot of people in one short week. From harvesting giant sweet potatoes at City Seeds Urban Farm to packing over 1,100 food bags for children in an afternoon at Operation Food Search to making giant vats of chili at Food Outreach to be served to people suffering from HIV/AIDS; I felt we covered a lot of bases. I really enjoyed getting to know the clients at City Seeds Urban Farm, as well. They had experiences and stories that everyone could learn a lot from. The biggest thing I will take away from this week is to take nothing for granted.
Today was our last day in St. Louis. After a week of volunteering all day, we were all eager to see more of the city. We went to the Tower Grover Farmer’s Market in a beautiful park right next to where we were staying. When we arrived at the market, a few of us hopped into a yoga class. Yoga was a lovely way to start the day off! Vendors at the market sold everything from fresh baguettes to hand-made bags from Nepal. There was also an awesome band that filled the bustling park with a soothing, catchy rhythm. After a few hours at the park, we drove into the heart of the city and went to the Taste of St. Louis. The Taste of St. Louis was crowded and the afternoon sun was sweltering but we all enjoyed a variety of foods and some free time. After about 3 hours at the Taste, we drove to the Gateway Arch. Most everyone took the tour to the top of the Arch. I decided to stay comfortably planted on the well-kept landscape around the Arch and enjoyed its splendor from the ground. Everyone arrived at the bottom sufficiently worn out from our long day of fun. We hurriedly found dinner. By 8 P.M. when dinner was finished, we went to the City Museum. The City Museum is a 10-story amusement park of sorts in an apartment like building – a gigantic, magical universe of adult-sized slides, tunnels, caverns, and unidentifiable climbing structures. We ran around like children at Chuck E. Cheese’s until 10:30 P.M. Once we finally arrived back at our “home”, we all climbed into bed and instantly fell asleep.
Today was our day off in St. Louis. We started off the day at the farmer’s market where we got to see the vegetables we harvested through City Seeds being sold to the public. There was also morning yoga, live music, and so much food! It was great to see the finished product of something we worked so hard on and to experience the community of St. Louis at the same time. From there we went to a giant street fair downtown called A Taste of St. Louis; a festival about, you guessed it, FOOD. There were hundreds of stands for local restaurants selling samples of their best foods and everything was amazing. After reluctantly leaving Taste, we headed off to do the one must in St. Louis- going up into the arch. The whole thing was cramped and nerve-wracking, but very cool. We then ended the night with a trip to one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen, City Museum. City Museum is a 3-story indoor/outdoor maze/funhouse/cluster of ever fun thing known to man. The rooftop offers a similar setting with a fully functional ferris wheel as well. We were like kids at a playground! Definitely the best time I’ve ever had at any museum ever. All in all, this week in St. Louis was great and I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks have to offer.
Today was awesome – one of the best days of the semester so far! We began the day by going to the local farmers market, where we spent the entire morning. We ate breakfast there, did yoga with the community, played some frisbee, and then relaxed in the park. Next we ventured to a festival that was going on downtown called the Taste of St. Louis. We got lunch there and walked around for a few hours. We then went to the famous Gateway Arch and got to ride up to the top. It was really cool to see the city from that high up (630 ft.); we could see the entire baseball stadium, the Mississippi River, and the rest of the city’s skyline. After that we had our last stop at the City Museum, which was not a museum at all. It was so much fun; there was a ferris wheel on the roof, a slide that went down 10 stories, crawl spaces throughout the building that led to random places, an art room where we drew on the walls, and a ball pit for adults. I honestly could have stayed there for days without doing anything twice. It was such a great day, I could not have asked for a better ending to the week and I loved seeing the city that we have been helping.