For my service learning in the fall semester of 2009, I
opted to go on an annual service trip to
About two weeks later, I completed the online application
From my Italian mother’s side of the family,
as well as from my incredibly caring grandmother on my father’s sides, I have a
natural desire to help others. I’m very excited to do everything I can to help
those who need it. I have heard that
The trip is scheduled for October 10th – 15th.
However, prior to our departure flight on October 10th, each
participating student had to pay $125 down as well as be active in a number of
meetings and fundraising activities in order to pay for the trip. Among the
fundraising activities were morning bake sales, selling raffle tickets, and
selling Domino’s pizza cards. The pizza cards were the most difficult yet the
easiest to sell. On the one hand, it was awkward nearly begging friends,
family, and acquaintances for money (regardless of how badly I needed it).
However, upon giving my long spiel about going to
There are ten students going on this trip, and each is
probably as eager and excited as I am right now. In about twelve hours, I will
be on a plane to
Today, we’re going to the Clara White food kitchen to serve breakfast to homeless or impoverished men, women, and children. I have little to no idea as to what to expect. I’ve never worked or volunteered in a food kitchen before, although I’ve heard it is a very humbling experience. I am pretty excited to get back to work in the food industry. I love food, restaurants, and cooking, and my career path took an unexpected turn away from the food industry and into the coffee industry in June of this year. There was even a point in time in my life wherein I wanted to go to culinary school. In short, I’m excited to be able to help others while doing something that I enjoy.
The Clara White food kitchen was much smaller and different than I had expected. Originally, I had expected to work on the line, putting food on plates for the “clients” (as they were called by the employees of Clara White) to take, as some of the students in our group did. However, this was not my job today. Clara White has a dining room with parameters of about 40’ x 40’. On one wall, an “in” door and an “out” door led to the kitchen. To the right of the “in” door was a folding table, where two volunteers were stationed, drying trays and placing a napkin and fork on each.
A number of students, including myself, walked to the table, took a tray and proceeded through the “in” door to the kitchen. The kitchen is set up like a buffet line: the first station was a student ladling peaches into a small Styrofoam bowl. I, and the other servers, would take a bowl of peaches, place it on the tray, and move to the next station. The next plate to be taken was made up of a large helping of grits, a hot dog, and a bagel. These plates were assembled behind the buffet line by 3 other volunteers. The last station along the buffet line featured a volunteer placing two 4 ounce cups of cranberry juice cocktail on each tray.
After the drink area of the buffet line, I processed through the “out” door, where a volunteer directed me to one of the clients sitting in the dining room with his or her hand raised, displaying a pink ticket, signifying that he or she had not yet received food. Upon being directed, I would simply walk to the person, place the food in front of him or her, take his or her ticket, and then walk back to the table outside of the kitchen to receive a tray and start all over again.
I definitely expected to have more of a direct rendezvous with the “clients.” Rarely were there more words exchanged besides “Here you go,” “Thanks,” or “You’re welcome.” However, there definitely were those few moments when it felt like someone was truly trying to connect with me, even just with their eyes. Sometimes someone’s eyes were perfectly, truly, and sincerely grateful for what I was doing, and that was certainly more than enough to continue serving, even through the sometimes awkward situations that arose simply from talking to people I didn’t know.
The most rewarding part of this service work was simply the amount of gratitude that was evident on nearly each and every person’s face upon receiving food. After oxygen, food (or nourishment) is the element absolutely essential for survival. It is almost heartbreaking to think that there truly are people in this world, state, and in EVERY city for that matter, who do not have access to the proper amount of food for their nourishment or survival. To be able to bring such people the basic staple of life is rewarding in its own. I was so proud and happy with myself for volunteering in this food kitchen. In fact, this experience truly has made me want to volunteer in food kitchens more frequently. I know that my church, St. James Catholic Church in Liberty, MO, connects with St. James’ and St. Mary’s food kitchens, and I could volunteer at either of them nearly any time.
Today, we will be walking to Riverside Presbyterian Residence,
a retirement home affiliated with the church at which we’re staying. This
morning we had a quick debriefing, and we were told that we will be cleaning
rooms, chatting with old folks, and serving lunch in their cafeteria. My
immediate thought was that this is a very cliché activity in which to be
partaking, considering “old people” are a very common running joke in
Our pre-service meeting was absolutely on target today. The cleaning was interesting, to say the least. Each of the students and chaperones split in pairs, and I worked in room 407 with Faith, another freshman from Park. Our wonderful resident, Mary, had a plethora of tasks for us to complete. Mary was in her mid-seventies, and her husband passed away many years ago. Her two sons are both married, but live somewhere in the northeast, so they can only visit occasionally. Legally, Mary is blind. Although the floor she lives on has a housekeeping service, Mary likes her room to be extra clean.
The first chore that Faith and I completed was somewhat easy; we simply dusted everything. For our purposes, Mary cut up a towel, about which she made us promise not to mention. Mary’s body was frail, so as Faith and I dusted the blinds, lampshades, and finished wood furniture, she remained mostly stationary in her recliner. I have to admit, some of the conversation between Faith, myself, and Mary was somewhat forced, and at times awkward. However, it definitely pleased Mary to have someone to talk to, and she was especially pleased to have help around her room.
With supplies from the cleaning crew, Faith and I cleaned all of the windows and mirrors, as well as the sink and bathtub. We also dusted some little trinkets and miscellaneous objects that Mary had lying around. After finishing this cleaning, and conversing just a little more with Mary, our time in room 407 was complete, and we headed back down to the front desk to find out what to do next.
At the front desk, we were reunited with Rachel and James, a senior and freshman respectively, who were also waiting for their next task. The four of us were assigned to clean the hallways in each floor: one dusting where the wall meets the ceiling, two sanitizing doorknobs and rails, and one cleaning mirrors and picture frames. There were fourteen floors in this building, although one we couldn’t access and one was the lobby, so we had a total of twelve floors on which to dust, clean, and sanitize. Although this cleaning was not done directly for the benefit of patrons who reside here, it was necessary to be done, and personally I was glad to be helping in any way. This is not to say that I plan on being in a retirement home later in life, but it is inevitable that one day I will depend on others for my well-being and for my surroundings.
Lunch was to be served at 11:30 AM, and we began our cleaning of each hallway at about 10:45 AM, so needless to say we did not finish before lunch. The cafeteria and dining room are located on the bottom floor of the residence, through a connective hallway from the lobby. An L-shaped lunch counter was immediately to one’s right upon entering. The student volunteers from Park would take the place of the cafeteria workers who assist the residents in taking food from the line and putting it on their tray, getting for them their choice of drink, walking to the seat of their choosing, and placing the food from the tray onto the table, in front of them.
Once again, I found myself in the food service industry, which is always a joy for me. Whether it’s cooking, plating, or serving, I love working with food. As many of the elderly residents walk at a somewhat slow pace, there was plenty of time for idle small talk while serving them. This served the same purpose, and evoked the same emotions, as talking to Mary in her room. For the most part, every resident was pleased to see an unfamiliar face; generally we acted as a very good break in the monotony of daily routine, or became a new friend to whom one could tell a fond story from their earlier life or childhood. These were the reasons that made me happy to be here, and that made me overcome any amount of anxiety or awkwardness in going up to the next resident in line and helping them through. I actually came to enjoy the experience of getting to chat with those older or wiser than I am, and I was happy to be able to do it.
After serving for about an hour, we were allowed to eat. After eating, Rachel, Faith, James and I set off to complete our hallway cleanings. My last chore, which was completely separate from everyone else’s service work, came around the end of our stay at Riverside Presbyterian Residence. As Faith, Rachel, James, and I sat waiting for everyone else to return from their random chores, I sat at a piano near the front door, playing odds and ends and pieces of songs that I know. While I was playing the piano, Dave just so happened to walk into the building to check on us, and handed me a bottle of wood glue. Apparently, some of the keys on the piano were cracking, or the tops of the keys were splitting from the bottoms, and it was officially my job to glue them back together with an extremely advanced and specialized tool: a paper clip.
All in all, today’s service work, emotions and reactions were quite different from those of yesterday. I think the main reason why is simply because yesterday, my entire service work was done in front of the people for whom I was working. That is to say, every action that I made was directly for each of the people who could see me doing it. However, the work that I performed today was a mix of a situation similar to that and working “behind-the-scenes” of the people who would benefit from my work. Regardless, I feel accomplished today. For two days in a row, I have helped two different kinds of people in need: hungry people, who cannot afford food, and elderly people, who cannot perform certain tasks without assistance. At the end of each day so far, I have had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and achievement. I am happy to be able to use my abilities, even the smallest ones (like cleaning or serving food), to the benefit of others.
Today, we are travelling about 20 minutes south of the
Dave’s wife, is the Executive Director of Angelwood, so the tie between us
Rather than yard work, the ten students and two chaperones were enlisted to paint two rooms in the house. This was kind of a letdown for most, as none of us were dressed in “paint clothes.” As for myself, I, along with Faith, James, Rachel, and another girl, Cait, were designated a bedroom in which to prime two walls, and then finish with bright white paint, each needing two coats. This part of the day was somewhat stoic: there isn’t much to describe in priming and painting walls. However, we did encounter some difficulties worth mentioning. Our supply of paint tape was limited, and our supply of plastic lining (to protect paint from falling on the floor, or anything other than the wall) was nonexistent.
Three of the walls in the room we were painting were beadboard. Thus, they had many small crevasses to fill with primer and paint which the roller would not accomplish. This, in its own, became a labor intensive task, although we were only painting one beadboard wall: it took three people to fill all of these gaps with paint brushes, while the other two primed and painted the normal wall.
While the twelve of us were in this group home painting, the five men who lived there were off at “adult day training,” another service that Angelwood offers. It is here, at adult day training, where people living with physical or mental disabilities can learn how to integrate into mainstream society. This was a little different than I expected, as I thought that we would be working with, if not in at least around, the residents. So, once again, my service is indirectly beneficial. However, near the end of our visit to Angelwood, after all of the priming and painting was completed in both rooms, two of the residents returned from their day training, and were absolutely ecstatic to see us there and to see the work we had completed. One young man of about 20, named Matt, occupied the room which I was painting. I do not recall exactly what his disability is, but he is mentally challenged and has extreme difficulty expressing himself. In fact, instead of even attempting speech, Matt uses a handheld device that speaks for him, based on the information he types in.
I would definitely say that it was worth the hard work of painting and cleaning (especially the floor, which was a great chore in itself) when the residents came home to see our finished product. The amount of happiness in Matt’s eyes made me feel even more accomplished than I had felt when we had finished painting. I specifically remember thinking, “This is what service is all about.” There is no better reason to do volunteer work than what I experienced today. I helped someone. I made someone’s living space better. I made someone happy today. I feel great.
Today is our last day of service, and it is our busiest. We will be completing service hours at two different locations today, doing two different types of service. Our first stop is at another church. More specifically, we’re going to the basement of a church, where Downtown Ecumenical Services Council is located. It is here where a college student (we came to know her by her nickname, “B-Ram”) organizes and runs a very special type of business. In fact, you can’t even classify it as a business, since there is no money involved. This organization gives brand new clothing to men, women, children, and families who cannot afford it. That’s right, we will be organizing, sorting, and folding clothes to give away to families for free. All that one needs in order to receive clothing is simply a driver’s license, or proof of identification. This is necessary because clients are only allowed to receive free clothing once every ninety days, so proof of identification helps keep track of things.
Our other service for the day will be returning to the Clara White Center to serve lunch. My feelings for the day are mixed. We’re nearing the end of our trip, and fatigue is starting to take a toll on everyone. However, each and every one of us musters the energy to perform our service well, to help others with a smile, and to be enthusiastic about what we’re doing. I’ve grown to know the eleven other people on this trip as family. We know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and how to lighten any mood. I digress. I absolutely love the idea of giving away unused clothing to people in need, and I’m very curious to see this whole set-up and how it works. I’m excited to be able to participate in such a great program. As far as serving in the food kitchen again, I am of course excited. I like getting to work with food, so I imagine it will be the same as when I went to serve breakfast there on Sunday. My only apprehensive thought comes from know that today will be very long and busy, what with working at the clothing center, leaving to serve lunch, then coming back to work at the clothing center more. We’ll just see what today brings.
The clothing center truly was just a basement. There were two main rooms, other than the lobby, which none of us really saw for more than a few seconds. The first main room contained racks and racks of men and women’s clothing, including shoes, t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, coats, underwear, and pants. In the back room, there were bins upon bins of clothing sorted by type (shirts, pants, etc.) and by age, for children. Clothing ranged from newborn up to boys and girls XL. In addition to these bins were large number of cardboard boxes, each containing a certain type or size of clothing, which needed to be sorted and folded. This is how the majority of my time was spent. Our group was, for the most part, split evenly among the front room (where volunteers would put together orders for clients), and the back room (where I was), folding and sorting clothing.
All of the work I did at the clothing center was “behind the scenes.” Mainly, I worked in the back room, opening boxes, sorting clothing by size, folding them, and putting them away. There was a rare occasion or two where I helped someone find all of the clothes for an order, using the sheet filled out by the client, listing shirt and pant size, and what they needed. However, the entire time that I was at the clothing center, I did not interact once with a client. In any case, I once again was overcome with the weight of the work that we were doing. Each and every one of us was helping out a greater cause in one way or another, whether interacting with clients, assembling clothing orders, or putting clothes away, each and every one of us was giving to the needy. It was for this reason that I felt good about doing what I was doing, and I felt as though I truly was making a difference.
As I mentioned, we did have a brief, two hour hiatus from the clothing center, during which time we travelled to and served at Clara White Center. This time, I was not a server as previously. Today, I actually worked in the kitchen, helping to plate the food for servers to take out to clients. For lunch today, we had bread, mixed steamed vegetables, white rice, and some sort of roasted pork with gravy. My job was to put the rice on the plate, although the volunteers around me were sometimes so slow, or got so behind in their plating that I had to help out by doing a little bit of their job, as well. There was less immediate satisfaction from my service here today, as I was not able to actually see and communicate with the people for whom I was volunteering. However, every once in a while, a volunteer who was serving would come into the kitchen and tell a great story about how someone reacted, or how grateful someone was, and it was a great pick-me-up.
After lunch ended at one, we returned to the clothing
center to continue working. I mainly performed the same tasks: opening boxes,
sorting and folding clothes. When our service was drawing to an end, B-Ram and
Dave (who showed up after we returned from Clara White) made it very clear to
us how much we had helped, and how much it was appreciated. Once again, this is
why we volunteer. Everyone loves recognition, and I think that it’s safe to say
that most people like helping others, and like to know when and how they’ve
done it. Today was a great day for service. I literally fed the hungry and
clothed the poor. As cliché as that may sound, I’m confident that I helped make
an impact on hundreds of lives in
Well, here I am, a week after returning from
never really done any volunteering or service work on even a somewhat similar
level as this