Alternative spring break helps homeless in D.C.

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Students from this college form an assembly line to organize and inventory hundreds of boxes March 11 at A Wider Circle, a nonprofit organization supplying essential housing products to those in need in Washington, D.C. Photo by M.J. Callahan

Students from this college form an assembly line to organize and inventory hundreds of boxes March 11 at A Wider Circle, a nonprofit organization supplying essential housing products to those in need in Washington, D.C. Photo by M.J. Callahan

By M.J. Callahan

mcallahan7@student.alamo.edu

Ten students spent five days preparing meals for the homeless, organizing donations at a food bank and building a greenhouse in Washington, D.C., in an alternative spring break trip sponsored by the office of student life.

The group, under the direction of Mary Elise Ferrer, coordinator of student success, worked with the homeless through Amizade, a nonprofit organization that offers service learning through alternative spring breaks and study-abroad trips.

This trip offered new opportunities.

Drama freshman Samuel Gonzalez, a member of the college boxing team, experienced his first flight, first trip out of state and first time to participate in philanthropic work. He was nervous as the United Airline flight took off March 9, but he said he wanted to go “to learn more of their experiences firsthand.”

The National Coalition of the Homeless speakers bureau put a face on homelessness the morning of March 10.

Ivanna Gonzales, American Sign Language and interpreting sophomore, prepares breakfast for homeless people waiting outside at 6:45 a.m. with temperatures as low as 23 degrees March 13 at Thrive DC. Photo by M.J. Callahan

Ivanna Gonzales, American Sign Language and interpreting sophomore, prepares breakfast for homeless people waiting outside at 6:45 a.m. with temperatures as low as 23 degrees March 13 at Thrive DC. Photo by M.J. Callahan

The speakers were homeless or previously homeless individuals who shared with the students how they became homeless and how anyone can become homeless.

Students learned what happens behind the scenes at food banks by working three hours at the Capital Area Food Bank the afternoon of March 10.

Because the conveyor belt was broken, students organized large bins of donated food by hand. Students were prompted to search for signs of botulism. Some of the cans had exploded and been at the bottom of the bins long enough to mold.

On March 12, students unloaded carrots, selected tomatoes and deboned turkeys at D.C. Central Kitchen in the same building as the area’s largest shelter.

The kitchen prepares 5,000 meals a day for schools, private parties and the large population of homeless waiting outside the door.

It also offers a culinary arts program to homeless, out-of-work, under-employed and previously incarcerated people.

Before working in the kitchen, volunteers from this college, Penn State and the American University law school watched an orientation video to teach such skills as using a knife, washing hands and handling food properly.

The video starred one of the kitchen’s most famous chefs, Rahman “Rock” Harper, who was the winner of “Hell’s Kitchen Season 3” on Fox Broadcasting. He is now a culinary instructor at the D.C. Central Kitchen.

Drama freshman Dennis Salazar, also a member of the boxing team, took in giant carrots — 1 foot long and 2 inches in diameter — from local farmers to be put into walk-in coolers.

Supermarkets do not buy produce of that size so the kitchen purchases it at a reduced rate.

Biology premed sophomore Kim-Briana Lorine, president of Phi Theta Kappa and treasurer of Student Government Association, sorted through bins of cherry tomatoes to eliminate the squashed or molded ones and then washed the edible to use in homemade barbecue sauce.

At A Wider Circle On March 11, students worked with the neighbor-to-neighbor program, which provides furniture and other necessities to families moving out of a shelter or who need assistance to get their independence back.

A Wider Circle’s Center for Professional Development offers clothing for job interviews and attire for people to wear when hired. Stylists help them make the best choices.

The students spent 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. moving beds, couches, chairs, tables, lamps, toys, linens, rugs and television sets to the showroom floor.

A Wider Circle sees 20 app-ointments a day. Appointments often are booked four months in advance.

In emergencies, such as someone having their children removed because they don’t have a bed to sleep on, A Wider Circle sees them the next day.

ASL and interpreting sophomore Samantha Davis took pride in not only moving and cleaning the furniture but also putting on “caring little touches” making the showroom look more like a living room.

“The organization wanted to make it a dignified experience and so did I.”

The 10 students will have a reflection meeting Saturday to discuss what they learned and contribute ideas for a possible trip next year.

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