On March 25th, 2016, my group was able to work with Iona Senior Services. This was a fun experience for me because we were able to work with a farmer’s market of sorts, and I have never been to one from the seller’s perspective. Even though we were not selling the food, we were still offering what we had to the members coming to our lunch and hoping they would like what we had for them. After they all came through the market, I was able to go in and help fix lunch. This was fun for me because I work in food service currently, and a lot of the meal that was being prepared was that of a catering sort. After, we served the meals to the guests and sat down and ate with them. This was fun because I was able to talk with one lady who wanted to know all about my major, and told me that she believed that I was going to be an amazing teacher, just from listening to me tell stories about the children and the things that I most loved doing with them. This was inspiring for me because she had not even seen me, and she believed that I should follow my dreams. After everyone left, we helped to clean the kitchen, eating area, and the area where we had the Farmer’s Market.
Today was our first day working with YSOP in Washington, D.C. We arrived early in the morning for orientation and then got into our assigned groups and parted ways. My group was headed to Martha’s Table. Martha’s Table is an organization that provides a variety of services to the homeless. Their main goals are to provide access to education, food, and opportunity. Our task of the day was to peel and cut potatoes. Although this job seemed unimportant, our supervisor explained to us how their operation runs almost entirely on volunteers like us. What seemed like a small task was actually going to be able to provide a meal to hundreds of people that night. Everyone we worked with was very friendly and also very passionate about Martha’s Table and everything that they do for the homeless.
During the third day of the ASB Bearcats leaving our mark in the nation’s capital, my team energetically worked hand in hand with another volunteer group from Ikea at the Capital Area Food Bank. This organization located in the Washington metro area is working towards solving hunger and its companion problems that include chronic undernutrition, heart disease, and obesity. They aim to partner with many organizations as well as delivering food directly into hard to reach areas including those who are experiencing poverty and/or homelessness. Our duty for the day was to unpack the food content of boxes that were packed on pallets and place the sorted contents into the designated bins organized by categories. This experienced pushed me to further open my eyes to see the actual amount of an abundant food waste that is recurring every year in our land of abundant food. My team had the personal experience of seeing how the Capital Area Food Bank is physically taking action towards reducing food waste by working closely with the food donated and refining its sorting process. Each of us worked alongside the Ikea members to removing boxes from pallets and unpacking the items to into designated bins. By the end of the week, I witnessed how this organization left its mark on the Bearcats as we chose to give our uneaten sacked lunches and extra lunch contents to those who were in need of food due to poverty instead of adding to the abundant food waste in our nation. I am very humble to have had this opportunity to travel with fellow Bearcats to make a difference in another community.
It’s early in the morning of day one as my team eagerly navigated our way through the metro and the streets of Washington, D.C. to our first designation at the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. There the Iona Senior Services Organization holds the key to the success of the volunteer program that is ran in that location. By the end of the day, I gained the knowledge that this nonprofit organization holds the mission to support people as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging to help keep them from experiencing homelessness. Iona h
opes to continue assisting the adult participants in
maintaining a healthy lifestyle through wellness, exercise, and creativity programs, plus a nutritious lunch. My team had the pleasure of lending a hand with putting on a mini farmer’s market with vegetables that local farmers donated to this service, and later serving lunch alongside the Iona crew. Each team member embraced the moments to sit down side-by-side with the visiting elderly to learn their individual stories. I gratefully had the chance to speak with two women that held inspiring experiences and perspectives of the world that most college students have not had the chance to witness.
We spent our last day volunteering with Martha’s Table the merchandising side. It reminded me of a goodwill. We spent the first hour of our shift hanging up shirts in a back room and then rotating them out on to the sales floor. They were really strict on what got hung up on what hangers and where it went out on the sales floor. It was really nice to see that they valued their little store and the customers that came. After the doors opened we assisted customers to help find what they were looking for. One customer really stuck out to me. He bought a light jacket and rather than keeping his heavy winter jacket he donated it. That simple gesture made me realize that no matter how successful you are in life everyone still wants to help someone.
Today was the day that we took a trip to Maryland and spent time packing meals for families. The organization was funded purely on donations. Whether that be from restaurants or from those more fortunate. Our job was to sort through the fruit and make sure it was all fresh and that it could be redistributed. After all the food was sorted we were expected to pack meals. Restaurants would donate their unused food rather than throwing it out at the end of the night. We scooped it out of metal containers and put it into smaller portion containers for guests. While we were packaging food, there were multiple people who came in and asked for meals. I was impressed by their organization skills. They had the numbers of family members counted and the prepacked food out within ten minutes. This organization was new and housed in a storage unit. They are hoping to grow one day.
We arrived at Capital City Food Bank and our group was split into two groups. I was in charge of resorting the food that the group before us incorrectly sorted. We were given three bins and told to separate what could be eaten from that which was spoiled. The spoiled food would be feed to the hog pin. The food bank was completely against wasting food. While sorting food I was volunteering next to a woman who was assigned to community service. The lady explained she got community service and had a $1,000 fine for speeding. That seemed extensive to me. But she didn’t complain but rather was the one digging deeper when the stench from the bad food got worse. The other group would package the food that we deemed edible into boxes to be shipped.
After the Capital City we went back to YSOP and we made a service meal for 40 members of the community. The doors opened 30 minutes before the actual dinner was served. This allowed us to play games and have conversations with our guests. I played scrabble with a well-educated man. He explained how he was just there for the meal because he didn’t have any money left to make dinner tonight. The man had a college degree, was in the army, and was waiting to hear back from a job offer. In his free time, he spent time volunteering for YSOP. After explaining his story, he made a comment that I will never forget; “Before you make the comment along the lines of ‘I never would have thought that’, remember it’s not your place to judge me on what’s right and wrong. Please remember that everyone has their own story and no one is perfect.” Then it was time for dinner. We served our guests right along a group of 7th graders. It was so nice to see that there is younger people who want to make a difference.
This morning we attended an orientation. During the orientation we discussed what we would be doing this week. We also wrote letters to ourselves answering the following questions, “Last time I saw a homeless person, I felt…” After we were finished with Orientation we split into our groups and left for our volunteer sites. My group was sent to the Church of Brethren to volunteer at their soup kitchen called the Brethren Nutrition Program. While we were there we prepared a noon meal for members of the community. There were about 30 people who came for a meal. We made enough that people could come and get as much food as they wanted. After all the guests received their food we were able to make a plate for ourselves and share a meal with our guests. I sat with a gentleman who had asked for someone to sit and talk to him. After talking to him, I realized that he had a hard past. But yet he was celebrating his 20th year substance free! He was really interested me advice about how to stay on the straight and narrow. After I finished my conversation, I went back into the kitchen to continue serving meals. There was this one lady who kept getting meals saying she was talking them home to her bird and she kept taking cookies. It was at this point that I realized that we are here to help those less fortunate and we cannot limit how much is enough.
On our last day in DC, our time volunteering was completed. We spent this day visiting the Holocaust Museum along with the few Smithsonian’s we were able to squeeze in. Our groups split up and conquered the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History. Once we finished our tour of the museums, we made our way to Capitol Hill and were able to see the front steps of the Capitol where most presidential inauguration speeches are given.
Looking back at the entirety of our time spent in DC, I learned a lot about our nation’s capitol that isn’t taught or shown in the media. I learned about the affordable housing system and the lack of available shelters, along with the process of supplying the hungry and homeless with their basic necessities on a day-to-day basis. I definitely gained a better personal understanding for those I may encounter in the future who are or who have experienced homelessness or hunger.
On Thursday, the 4th day in DC, my group was sent to Seabury which is a company designed to go to the homes of the elderly who need assistance taking care of their homes – inside and out. Here, we were sent to a woman’s house where we cleaned up her yard and revitalized her gardens. With the best weather we’d had all week, this task was a welcomed one. After we were done, the woman thanked us “Midwest folks” for coming to help make her lawn and garden look beautiful again.
After our volunteer services and reflections on this day, our entire group embarked on a walking tour of the monuments. Our first stop was to the National Mall where we saw the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool leading to the Lincoln Memorial. It was very humbling being in the same place that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most memorable speech. From there, we saw the World War II Memorial along with the Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials.
Being in our nation’s capitol provided us with a wide variety of learning experiences, both from our volunteering and from the historical sites we had the opportunity to visit.