Archive for the 'Alternative Spring Break' Category

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Day 3: Cake Boss and 9/11 Reflection 

Today the brave group Lexi, Sam, Erica S, Jenna and I (Max) took the PATH to Hoboken, New Jersey to score some of the one and only Buddy’s, the Cake Boss, pastries. The Cake Boss is a show on the TLC network that showcases the trials and tribulations of Buddy Valastro and his family of running this ever busier bakery; Carlo’s Bakery, where they make amazingly creative and delicious cakes for their customers. Some of  the things that were bought among group members were Lobster tails (the pastry, because everyone keeps thinking we got up at 5 in the morning to go get real lobster tails from a bakery….in New Jersey), donuts, cupcakes, two pound tray of cookies and a individual cheesecake. Since Hoboken is across the river from Manhattan, we were able to see the skyline during the sunrise on a clear day. T’was glorious. The other members of our group had other plans. Trina and Erica W went out to breakfast at Good Enough to Eat, with Erica’s cousin. Gary and Kateri seized the opportunity for some additional much needed shut eye.

Constant running around and little sleep finally caught up with many. Getting this much done on 5-6 hours of sleep is exhausting, but with a little help from good ole caffeine we manage.

The group of 10 returned back to GMHC on Tuesday to get a little more hands on volunteer experience. We, alongside regular volunteers, served lunch to the members of GMHC. Assembly line style, we each manned a certain station and got the chance to chat with people there. GMHC generously offers all of their volunteers free lunch, which as we all agree is delicious. Our lunch breaks us gave an opportunity to really connect with people; to hear their stories and watch them as they light up to hear ours. Everyone has a story and they are all different, because HIV/AIDS has no face. Me personally, I really loved how an awful disease/condition could really bring people together. Everyone was social and nice. But what really stuck out was their appreciation. They always went out of their way to genuinely thank us and were so happy to have us there.

Next on the list was the 9/11 Memorial. On Tuesday nights the museum is free but that also means that is becomes full very early on, even 14 something years later. This really speaks not only to the quality of the memorial, but also the impact it has had not only on New Yorkers but Americans as a whole. Unfortunately, we did not get in. But outside still stands two massive pit fountains which are encircled by marble which bares the names of the 3,000 of the lives lost etched into its cold surface. It was truly touching and moving with its quite, yet powerful symbolism. Weirdly enough Brussels suffered from a terrorist attack on the same day we visited the memorial, and in the survivor tree (the only tree that survived the 9/11 attack) were a letter of condolence and the flag of Belgium.

The rest of the night also followed suit and did not go to plan. The restaurant we planned on going to was far too busy for a group of 10, but being the resilient Midwesterners we are, we found another place to eat; the Shake Shack. The name of their game is simply awesome burgers and decadent shakes. There seems to be a pattern when we all sit down to eat. We talk waiting ever so patiently until our food arrives, as soon as it arrives the sound of people trying to get that last bit of food into their mouths is the only hear you’ll hear. I mean do you blame us with the amount of walking we do on a daily basis here?

Stomachs full and eyes glossy, we all decided it was time to retire for the day.


Artisan workshops!

Yesterday was packed!

We started the day finishing up our construction projects! After showers that involved lots of soap and scrubbing to remove cement we all split into three groups to attend artisan workshops.

I attended the textile workshop and met Eliva who told us of how De La Gente was able to help her get a loan so she could quit her factory job and start making purses. We got to pick out traditional Guatemalan fabrics for our bags. She let us practice with her sewing machine..which I broke right away. Typical me. It was an easy fix, Eliva just needed to replace the needle.  It was pretty clear that sewing is not in my skill set! We all got to help sew our bags and we ended up buying a lot of extra products from her!

Eric and Crystal in our group went to the iron working workshop! They each got to outline, cut out, hammer, and paint iron lizards. They by far had the most labor intensive workshop, and were sweating afterwards! The hike to the top of the workshop wasn’t even the hardest part! Cutting out iron with scissors turned out to be pretty rough. “Tough?! Near impossible!!”-Eric. Carlos their teacher has made an entire house out of iron! They also found out that chickens aren’t pets here….check out our next post for more about that….

Shelby, Danielle, and Molly went to the wood working workshop! Where they met Jorge a wood worker. They learned how to use different tools a got to make wood serving trays! They got to pick out traditional fabrics to enclose in their trays. Next up was sanding and staining the trays. After the trays were finished, they got to go look at his shop and see a bunch of wood furniture with looks of detail that he had made by hand!

It was great to come back to De La Gente at the end of the night and show off all of our new products!

See ya,



Construction Days Photos

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Day 3: Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State of Mind

Bright and early, before the sun greets New York with its warm hello, we are on our way. Breakfast had us revisit Chinatown with a stop at the Taipan Bakery. Many rejoiced at the sight of reasonably priced coffee and pastries. On the other hand, many were left scratching their heads on what exactly they were ordering. Some went on a more traditional route, choosing fried doughnut like things, and others tried things they weren’t quite sure of. Like mango ricimagee balls. Yup, a ball of a soft rice mango mixture and a sweet filling, and I can tell you it was pretty decent. While slurping/slipping coffee and consuming our chinese breakfast experiments, we made our way to the Brooklyn Bridge.

A light snowfall from the night before left the bridges walking surface slippery. Despite that, dedicated bikers and joggers still took to the bridge for a chance to grab fresh air or simply make it to work. We walked the length of the bridge and back. The bridge gave us gorgeous views of the eastern Manhattan skyline and we also got to take a close look at the architecture of the world’s formerly largest suspension bridge. We then scurried down to the financial district to see the ecoimagenomic heart of America. Banks were plentiful here, but we soon had to leave.

As I was talking to my dad on the phone the other day, summarizing my day’s events and such, he said, “That’s nice and all, but are you supposed to be volunteering?” Why dad yes, yes we are. And that all changes today with orientation at the GMHC. GMHC stands for Gay Man’s Health Crisis and was found back in the early 1980s to combat the rise of a new disease that was killing a lot of gay men. Today they are one of the world’s largest AIDS/HIV non-profits in the world. We continued our worldly theme with the Manhattan Macy’s which boasts it is the world’s largest store. And it is hard to disagree. It takes up whaimaget feels like almost a block and has 9 stories. This Macy’s had every brand you could possibly think of and more. Then of course the Empire State building was next.

Day 4: Food Insecurity

Day 4This morning instead of our usual volunteering, we started out by taking a walk around the area to obverse and take note on the different neighborhood areas and what food resources they have. Just a couple blocks away we were in a “rough neighborhood” and asked if we were lost because we shouldn’t be there. We went on our way through the area to the grocery store and was a note on the door as we walked saying “pull up our pants and pull down our hoods” which was a little nervous-making. As we walked in we realized it was more like a gas station with limited produce and fresh food options. After buying a few snacks we walked uptown through clearly divided (by a fence) neighborhoods of higher income and very low income. Field Foods was our next grocery store which resembles a basic grocery store that we see (Pick N Save) and realized that within just a few blocks there were such huge divides between neighbors, incomes, and what food was accessible not just distance wise, but by what they could afford- which is the biggest factor. Even though they solved their food desert issue by putting in another store, many are still unable to buy fresh produce and quality food.

Right after our tour and another learning session, we drove over to Operation Food Search which is a food bank that serves 331 agencies- including shelters, agencies, food pantries, emergency services, and schools. They receive MANY donations from grocery stores of food they pull from the shelves early before their shelf life is up. That being said, our job of the day was to pull much of the donated bread off the shelves and into bins for St. Louis composting. We were kind of turned off by this since we were learning so much about food insecurity and access, but after reflecting and discussing the situation, we realized that food banks and even Kingdom House receive TONS of food donations that they simply can’t serve out fast enough before it goes bad. OFS was getting another shipment of fresher bread so the loafs they had simply had to go, and that was that. Its not a perfect situation or solution, but definitely more understandable now. The overall lesson we talked about was that if you’re going to donate food to shelters, food banks, or pantries, that you should definitely ask what they most need or bring more non-perishable food items. Its better to provide what they actually need rather than what you assume they need; just like why Kingdom House goes out in the city to see what services individuals in the community need.

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Reflection and discussion today was very insightful and we’re happy we get the chance to debrief on what we see and make sense of what is going on around us here. We had our lesson on the reality of food stamps, EBT, and government assistance in regards to how much money a family of four gets per day to feed themselves. What families and individuals get through these is still under what reports say is the lowest price to sustain and function on. EBT and food stamps only cover food too. They don’t cover household items, feminine hygiene products, diapers, over-the-counter medications, etc. There is still a gap between what they need and what they can afford even with this help, which is not okay and not a way to live.

To say we are frustrated is an understatement at this point in the week. There is so much we should be doing and could be doing, but there are many logistics and people in the way to come to the solution to end hunger, homelessness, and access to basic needs. On the positive side today, we received our letters from friends, family, and UWO staff to lift our spirits and send well wishes. It was such a great end to our day to have that support even though we’re miles away. Tomorrow is our last day of lessons which will focus on intersectionality between what we’ve learned with racism, homelessness, and food insecurity.

Don’t forget to follow us through #OshLouis and #travelingtitans

January 2017
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