December 16, 2011
Coming Full Circle
Upon arrival to the Second Harvest Food Bank of NO, we were whisked into the volunteer debriefing room to learn the various missions of the Food Bank and what we were hoping to accomplish on our last service day. After a short intro lesson to the disassemble, then reassemble, line we started on our fast-paced goal to pack 20,000 pounds of food. Chaperoned by two of our now adopted family, Mr. Charles and Mr. Vince, it began in a hurry, as our token boys on the trip were unpacking food out of boxes with an amazing zeal. Cruising down the conveyor belt, they were then sorted by individuals by pushing them into separate rows. They were then weighed in boxes, labeled and stacked on crates to be taken away. We became extremely efficient as a team of about thirty people as we worked with a group from Stewart Enterprises. With music playing, we rocked out a rhythm of packaging box after box of canned foods, dried goods, beverages, snacks, desserts, household products and condiments. With a goal in mind, we were committed and motivated, and before we knew it, we had almost hit our goal.
On one of our breaks we were able to take a tour of the warehouse and able to get a more full idea of what the Food Bank provides and is capable of. One of the most exciting of these is their community kitchen they just finished. It is used for cooking classes, which educate the public about healthy, affordable options for meals. After seeing the cooking-show style kitchen, we moved on to see the production kitchen, where they worked to serve 101,525 meals to 35 various sites with their Summer Feeding program, just one example of their programs directed at ending hunger. This was an exceptional process, facility and program for our students to hear about, as it opens up ideas for future avenues of focused work and potential fields of occupation.
After all was said and done, we totaled 21,270 pounds of food packaged, beating the previous record set by the Navy of pounds in a day! Yes, the Navy. Reflecting upon the day, we took most time to discuss the people of New Orleans. At the heart of our motivation for coming down on the service trip, the people of New Orleans have proved to be welcoming, hospital, thankful, and personable. While maintaining all of these qualities, they continue to be positive and uplifting. We have seen, through many various examples, the import of family and community for these citizens. They establish an extremely personal and comfortable relationship even with just a first introduction. We have seen a passion for life and an inundated sense of celebration here. They are proud of their culture and the only place they will ever call home, which was not at all shook by Katrina.
Finishing up the day, Stewart Enterprises invited us to their head quarters to show us Six Feet Under: Impact of Katrina on Stewart Enterprises. It was a video their company had made interviewing survivors of the 80% flooding of New Orleans. With their 600 employees at the time, they worked to make sure everyone was somewhere safe and unharmed. Interviewees recounted their tales of being split up from their families, having to deal with the spilling of crude oil to ruin 27,000 houses, taking out rescue boats, and of losing everything they had worked for their entire lives for some. Most could delineate between two lives of pre- and post- Katrina. Their slogan, “Caring for people, Making a difference” was seen in their actions they took to make sure their employees still had jobs, a place to live and food after the storm, even keeping FEMA trailers in the parking lot. One of the most touching scenes in the movie was the filming of hand-made cards sent from elementary kids from bordering states with such sentiments as: “We care a lot about you!” and “Is your family alright?” A few of those that shared this experience, Laurie, Brian, Kathy and others, made a great impact on us by first working together and then taking the time to show us their stories of weathering Katrina.
This last day of service remained positive and energetic throughout the day as we relished in a closing, uplifting project. We were able to see a large-scale impact of feeding over 17,000 families in New Orleans. It was a wonderful way to wrap up an emotionally varying, hard-working, and event-packed week. Not only was the day an incredibly phenomenal experience for all, we found out the soup kitchen we volunteered with at the beginning of the week is provided their food from Second Harvest. So, we have come full circle in seeing the interconnectedness of a community and how we can reach so many lives with just a few days of commitment.
With these days of service, we are able to see just how much we can accomplish as a few individuals in a community. With this in mind, we hope to share our experiences with family and friends; as well as maintain our service as we return back to SLO, fulfilling the mission of Alternative Breaks.