By Madison Weber ’23, Staff Writer and Social Media Editor
-Disclaimer: This article is from the personal opinion of the author and may not necessarily be universally factual, but rather opinion.
During spring break, 32 Fisher students flew to Houston, Texas to do service work with the SJFC Campus Ministry. I was lucky enough to be one of those students, and the experience I had there was amazing and will likely leave a lasting impression on me and the other students that were there.
When we got off the plane, the warm weather greeted us instantly. Many of us took advantage of this as an opportunity to change into something warmer. For my first day there I was at Brighter Bites, which involved packaging healthy foods to go to elementary schools in the area to ensure that children in the Houston area were getting enough healthy food. Houston is second only behind Detroit in the number of newly poor neighborhoods so proper nutrition often comes second for many of its inhabitants. Later that night we sorted through and sanitized thousands of pounds of donated food at the Houston Food Bank. One of the things that stuck with me the most was probably the range of food that people had donated.
The majority of donated food would be considered “unhealthy” (simple carbs, candy, etc). This made me think about the high rates of obesity in impoverished communities and people – and how if that is what they were being donated, what choice did they really have? I was sorting through everything and all I could think about was how I would never choose to buy these things. But that’s the thing – I am fortunate enough to have a choice in what I buy. The people receiving food from these food banks likely don’t have the same opportunity. This reinforced why things like Brighter Bites were so important.
Some things were even already opened, damaged, or half eaten – meaning we had to throw them out anyway. Assistant Ministry Director Sarah Mancini, spoke to students later in the evening about avoiding serving or donating out of convenience. To give just because you don’t want something is not really in the spirit of giving at all.
Another day we helped with a drive-through grocery pickup. Cars were able to tell facilitators how many people they needed to feed and received a corresponding amount of food. In just a few hours, over 100 cars were served – many of the cars serving two, three, or even four families. At this drive through they were able to get non-perishables as well as some fresh groceries. One conversation I had with a local who was volunteering included the sentiment that when she was a kid, things were not like this. The local expressed that when she was growing up, everyone ate and everyone had what they needed.
Students also volunteered at two homeless shelters/soup kitchens: Beacon house and Loaves and Fishes. This gave students the opportunity to have direct communication and experiences with the population they were there to serve. Personally, I attended Loaves and Fishes and was able to help prepare a meal – and the conversations I had with the people who attended were incredibly powerful. They were thankful just to have someone who acknowledged their existence and was willing to have a five minute conversation with them. However, it still felt a little odd as you were encouraged to pass food out from behind a fence or gate for workers safety. I understand that this may be necessary due to past situations in the kitchen, but it definitely still solidified the divide between us and the people on the street. They would crowd around the fence and ask for more food or drink.
Throughout the week, students also went to the rodeo, visited the Gulf of Mexico, enjoyed authentic local food, attended mass at a Basilian college, and of course played manhunt together on the retreat we were staying at. Father Kevins group of students really enjoyed the opportunity to try out many of the fast food options that the Houston area boasted – as he was often hungry on the road. It really was truly an amazing, bonding experience. I know for me personally, it was a reminder that in the phrase “homeless person” the homeless is a descriptor used regarding a real human being. When it’s often so much easier to see the word homeless as their main identity, rather than the person and individual that they are.
Fisher students interested in serving those in need locally are always invited to reach out to Campus Ministry for help in finding service sites and setting up hours.