Woodsies give back in NYC
April 8th, 2014 | Betsy Elliott
Soup kitchens, immigration offices and food pantries may not sound like spring break, but that’s exactly where 13 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) students chose to spend theirs. This year’s alternative spring break service trip led SMWC to New York City where students volunteered at Trinity Lutheran Soup Kitchen, Cabrini Immigration Services and Most Holy Trinity – St. Mary.
For many people who use these services, a smile, a conversation or genuine interest can go a long way. Marguerite Frazier, senior equine business management major from Herscher, Ill., discovered this simple fact while volunteering at the soup kitchen.
“My favorite experience of the week was connecting with a woman who came through the line every day,” Frazier explains. “She was a vegetarian, so on the first and second days she forewent the meat option that we were offering. On the third day, I saw her in line, smiled at her, and said, ‘Hello.’ When she reached the serving station, the other student working with me went to put the meat option on the woman's plate, but I stopped her and said, ‘No, she's a vegetarian, I'll just give her extra veggies.’ The shock, smile and gratitude on that woman's face were enough to move me to tears. She was so touched that I had been not just seeing her all week, but actually knowing her and paying attention to her.”
Moments like this may seem small to an outsider, but for the volunteer and the client, they mean so much more. These moments help people past barriers placed by society and stereotypes.
“These trips are important because the students experience poverty and break their own stereotypes of the homeless and poor. The students receive a new appreciation for human dignity and put faces to statistics – allowing compassion to influence their decisions and actions,” states Andrea Beyke, SMWC campus minister. “They also connect with those who work in the soup kitchens, thrift stores and immigration ministries, which is important – they see that serving others can be a way of life, not just something you do on the weekends or during spring break.”
Frazier explains that she not only connected with the clients using the services, but also with the volunteers who have allowed serving others to become a daily part of their lives.
“When we started, the workers were all business - no jokes, no laughter, no smiles,” states Frazier. “As the week went on, and we finished our daily tasks quicker and quicker, we saw a change in the staff's attitudes. They started joking with us, smiling at us when we asked questions, and staying to chat with us after we'd completed our daily tasks. One of them even brought us doughnuts one morning, and gave me a hat he'd bought with a Lower East Side sign on it. Getting to know these people who have given their lives to serving others was a humbling and life-changing experience.”
The student volunteers were able to serve others in a variety of ways from helping at the soup kitchen, food pantry and thrift store to filing paperwork and organizing a children’s library.
“To me, the experience meant being able to brighten someone’s day,” states Danielle King, freshmen psychology major from Terre Haute, Ind. “My favorite part about the whole experience was the gratitude of the staff. They were all so surprised at how hard working and excited we were to help. It was wonderful knowing we helped them get things done that would have taken so much longer without us.”
A few students were even able to use their language skills to translate for Spanish-speaking and Chinese-speaking immigrants at Cabrini Immigration Services.
“One's culture can impact someone else's culture in a way you never thought it would,” states Alejandra Garcia, sophomore equine business management and business administration major from Edinburg, Texas. “I take pride in where I come from and my family’s background, and knowing that I was able to translate to the Spanish community in New York at the immigration services made me feel truly special.”
The success of the trip was apparent not only in the service that was given by these volunteers but also in what they took away from the experience. “I wanted to do something meaningful with my spring break,” states Erin Harnett, sophomore elementary education major from Fishers, Ind. “The people we helped were really grateful and genuinely interested in us and what we did to help. We all talked about our stories and what got us to where we were.”
“The students worked hard at the sites and allowed the experience to change their perspective on things,” states Beyke. “We had reflection each night, and it was inspiring to see how the day had affected them and their beliefs. Their philosophies and their actions began to converge, which is always a beautiful thing to watch develop in a student.”