For winter break, I decided to give up a week to volunteer my time in Asheville, North Carolina. Eleven students and I packed our belongings Saturday night after finals and started helping on Monday. My group partnered with a YMCA in Asheville where we assisted them for the week. Tasks included: power washing buses, cooking rice, talking about healthy eating and exercising in schools, landscaping, sorting fruits and vegetables, and working mobile food markets.
The first day, we power washed three buses. Power washing was helpful to the YMCA because they were going to sell the buses and put the money towards programs for kids. We also had to push one of the buses out of the grass and into the parking lot. This helped the YMCA because without us, they would have had to pay over $150 for someone to tow it. That would have taken money away from programs.
Next, I headed to the kitchen.
I helped cook whole grain rice for students at a school so they could see healthy food can taste good. At the school, we handed out worksheets about the importance of colorful plates. With the lesson, students would be better informed on fruits and vegetables. At a different school, we facilitated a game of Simon Says. We incorporated different exercises to get students up and moving. Not only did it get students to exercise, but it also taught them different exercises they might not have known.
As much as I preferred to be inside where it was warm, I also had to put on work gloves and pull some weeds.
Landscaping helped the YMCA because they needed weeds cleared out for kids to be able to play. We did not clear out every single weed, but every bit helped. Somewhere down the line, some sort of structure will most likely be put in the area. In the past, students that went on the same Alternative Break installed a disc golf course and gaga ball pit.
I cleared the vines that were wrapped around the trees. Others in my group cleared out poison ivy.
The vines were an invasive species that were suffocating trees. I had to clear the vines to help save the trees and provide a future play area for kids.
Everything I did on the break was fun, but my favorite part was the direct service handing out food.
Many grocery stores in the Asheville area donate the fruits and vegetables that are not “shelf-quality” to the YMCA. The YMCA then sorts through all of the fruits and vegetables, throwing away the moldy and squishy produce. They keep what is edible, sort them in crates, load the truck and distribute the food in the community for free. When distributing the food, there is no questions asked about income.
Our role as a group was important because we provided extra hands. We allowed the process to run more efficiently by reducing the time it takes to sort and load the food. Because we reduced the time, we were able to load more food in the trucks before it was time to go. The workers at the YMCA said we broke their record for the most mouths fed. Not only is this important in itself, but we also did all the work right before the holiday season. The families we supplied food to would not go hungry on the holidays.
One thing I’ve taken away from this experience is to not waste food. Just because something doesn’t look picture perfect doesn’t mean it’s not edible. There are plenty of people in the world who would love to eat the food people throw away because it has a brown spot or is a little squishy.
Another thing I learned is tasks may seem little and easy to me, but they could really help someone else. Moving the bus from the grass to the parking lot took very little time and effort for the group. However, without us, there would have only been two staff members for the task. They could not have done it alone. This would have resulted in having to hire someone. I will keep this lesson in mind and remember that little things to me could make a huge impact on someone else.