A Trend We Can Get Behind: A Service Spring Break

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Last week, students across the metro area took pause from their educational enlightenment for spring break.  For many, spring break means a road trip to the beach with family and friends, but due to the continuing rough economy and high fuel costs, some are opting for the ever popular staycation, while others look to the grandparents to play the role of hero, swooping in to assume childcare responsibilities for the week.  Those of us who work in hunger relief also know that spring break means that students are unable to get breakfast and lunch at school; students will not be receiving a snack in their after-school program.  For families struggling with food security, spring break, like the summer months, can be a challenge.

But a growing movement during spring break is for college students to use their break as a service experience. Alternative Spring Break (ASB) programs are found at most colleges and universities and allow groups of students to live and volunteer together.  Atlanta is a popular ASB destination, particularly for groups focusing on homelessness and poverty issues.

Eleven different ASB groups included ACFB as part of their service work through a combination of Hunger 101 workshops and volunteering in the Product Rescue Center (PRC), Kids in Need (KIN), and Community Gardens.  Suzanne Roush, ACFB Volunteer Coordinator, says, “ASB volunteers are typically some of the most dependable, enthusiastic and energetic groups we get.  I mean, right away we form a certain impression of a group that would rather spend their days helping communities than lying on a beach all day – and they rarely disappoint.”

Kids in Need, the Food Bank’s school supply store for teachers in low-income schools, welcomed ASB groups from Elon University, University of Missouri, and Deloitte Alternative Spring Break.  “College students bring an additional energy and passion to volunteer projects that keep our staff on their toes.  We often have to plan for an Alternative Spring Break group to complete a larger amount of work than other groups of the same number because these students are fired up about service and in a ‘help get lots of work done’ mode for their entire break,” noted Barbara Overton, Kids in Need Manager.

Community Gardens utilized the labor of ASB groups from University of East Carolina, Upper Iowa University, William and Mary, and University of Maryland.  In addition to some of the groups already mentioned, UNC at Chapel Hill (aka APPLES) and James Madison volunteered in the PRC.

I work in Education and Outreach at ACFB; five ASB groups (Grinnell College, Maryland, Vanderbilt, UNC-Chapel Hill, and William and Mary) participated in a Hunger 101 workshop.  I ended each workshop with a discussion about how their Food Bank experience, as well as overall ASB trip, might have an impact when they return to their colleges.  Many gave concrete examples such as learning more about the food pantry or community garden on their campus, but an overall theme emerged, highlighted by one of the students from Grinnell.  She mentioned how they were learning so much about Atlanta, the people, the history, and the fight against hunger and poverty; she came to realize that she didn’t have the same awareness about where she was from or the area surrounding her college.  She planned to change that upon her return.  Given her thoughtfulness and passion exhibited during our time together, I’m confident she will.

All of us who had the opportunity to interact with the ASB groups are already looking forward to next year. Thank you to all the Alternative Spring Breakers who made Atlanta their home for a week volunteering their time with ACFB, Café 458, City of Refuge, GA Ave Food Co-Op, and a plethora of other organizations across Atlanta.

See you next year!

Chris Ferguson
Education and Outreach Coordinator

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