Wednesday, June 13, 2012

ASB'09 Washington DC

In the spring of 2009, I signed up for my third and final Alternative Spring Break trip at Grand Valley, and little did I know it would be the one with the greatest impact. 

Our trip was the "hunger and homelessness" trip and me and six other girls headed to our nation's capital to try and save the world. I had been to DC several times in high school for Student Council trips, but this ASB trip was sending me back there, to see a side of the city I had never seen. A side that would break my heart.

We slept in the basement of a church, which we shared with another group from GVSU. While we came there to sleep at night, the basement of the church served as a soup kitchen during the day. This meant each morning we had to roll up our beds, pack our bags and put our stuff into storage. One of the mornings, we got to stick around and help out at the church. We were able to meet those who ate possibly the only meal of the day there in the church.

Throughout the week, we went to a food pantry to help sort donations, were able to visit some of the local shelters and even made PB&J sandwiches in the van to pass out to homeless people on the street.

PB&J assembly line in our van :)
The majority of the week, we were working at a place called DC Central Kitchen, which is one of the greatest organizations I've ever worked for. DCCK makes 5,000 meals a day that are delivered to homeless shelters, transitional homes and non-profits in the DC area. Since all the meals are prepared at one place, it saves all the organizations time and money, while nourishing their clients at the same time. These meals are created using their Food Recycling program, which makes leftover and surplus food into healthy meals for those in need.

On top of this, DC Central Kitchen offers a Culinary Job Training program for unemployed men and women who want to replace homelessness, addiction and incarceration with a career.  

These are the programs that we helped with directly, however DCCK also has a Healthy Corners program which delivers fresh produce to 30 different corner stores in the DC area that have limited access to healthy food. They also have a First Helping program that brings a warm breakfast every morning to those in need. AND have created The Campus Kitchen Project with thirty one different communities across America doing the same thing as DCCK.

We spent the week cutting tomatoes, stirring pots of stew large enough for me to fit in, assembling sandwiches, and chopping up any other type of produce found that could be used. 

One of the things that stands out to me the most when I remember this trip three years later is the day we  saw the inside of a men's homeless shelter. I'd never seen anything like it in my life--bunk beds lined up not even a foot apart from each other, sheets used for privacy between the beds, seeing what I can only imagine being these people's only belongings stashed under their beds... and our awkward attempt to strike up conversation in the common area. The one man I chose to begin conversation with, answered my question "How are you?" with "I am blessed.

And I wanted to burst into tears. Burst into tears at where my imagination filled in the details of his life and how he got there, how he must feel every day with no real place to call home. And I couldn't help but think, where was his family? Did they know where he was and what state he was in? 

But he had a roof over his head for tonight, and a warm bed to sleep on. So he was blessed.

Robbert Egger :)
The other thing that stands out to me from this trip, and quite possibly someone who changed my life forever, was meeting Robbert Egger. He was climbing the ladder in the DC night club life when he began to notice the amount of food being thrown out from all the fancy night clubs and restaurants. He abandoned his dream of opening the greatest night club in DC, and instead founded DC Central Kitchen. Through hard work and dedication, he was able to get a grant to fund his initiative of taking all the leftover and surplus food he could find, and turning it into nutritious meals for those in need, and combined that with giving those same people a new start with the Culinary Job Training Program.

These spring break trips changed my life forever, and ironically throughout my time at Grand Valley had the theme of (surprise!) "Be the change."

Because my best friend convinced me to sign up for my first trip seven years ago, I am a different person.

And now I am here to help you save the world too. 

Be the change. Make the difference.

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