Day 4: This 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.
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
Day 3– Tuesday 3/22
We woke up bright and early before the Sun and drove over to The Bridge to prep and serve breakfast. The Bridge is a day shelter in St. Louis that used to be a church. The two head individuals that prep and serve meals do so Monday-Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most, if not all, of the food is donated from various religious organizations, stores, and volunteer groups around the area. Its a long process so having volunteers is definitely needed to help everything go fast and smoothly in time for serving. We helped prep the meals starting at 6:30am and started serving at 8. The individuals that utilize the shelter and the meals were greatly appreciative and so friendly. Some of them would stay and chat with us for a moment and talk about their experiences. It was very humbling to say the least. When we were cleaning up the line and head back in the kitchen to prep lunch, many individuals stayed at the tables and we learned that many stay in The Bridge all day long for shelter. 9:30 came around quickly and we sadly had to leave. The plus side to getting up very early is that we still had the whole day ahead of us!
Once we got back to our apartment we had our sessions on homelessness, eviction, and discrimination. The leading cause of homelessness is not addiction or mental illness, but poverty. Many believe being homeless is a result of someone being lazy, making bad choices, etc. but that is definitely not the case for the majority of those without homes. One article we went over during a learning session was “I’ve been homeless 3 times. The problem isn’t drugs or mental illness– it’s poverty” by Veronica Harnish. There were 8 causes of homelessness that were discussed in the article: Homelessness is expensive, people think you’re low-income/homeless it’s because you’re lazy or uneducated, lack of affordable housing (leading cause), lack of living wage –> no affordable housing, landlords can make it impossible to get a lease- regardless of savings or job, politicians won’t help, roommates are the fastest but most problematic way out of homelessness, and people uncomfortable with homelessness want you to be invisible. Our group discussion delved into each of them and we had great reflections and realizations about the issues surrounding (and causing) homelessness.
Our sessions ended and we had the whole afternoon for fun!! We started by going to St. Louis Zoo for a few hours. The coolest part was seeing kangaroos hopping around their exhibit and watching hippos swim around through their huge exhibit window. The zoo closed at 5 so right from there we went to explore Laumeier Sculpture Park! We explored almost all of the park and left as the sun was setting over the city. It was the PERFECT weather to be out and about for activities. We went home and had dinner when we met our downstairs neighbors for the week from Central Methodist University- which is just a few hours away from here. It was great getting to meet other volunteers working with Kingdom House and planning to get together again this week!!
Laumeier Sculpture Park
Our new downstairs neighbors for the week
Day 1 was lots of driving, but was nothing short of fun!!! We made a new friend named Beanz and had an interesting grocery store adventure. Beanz is a goat magnet on our fridge that has become our trip mascot, along with our hashtag #OshLouis (search for it on Facebook and Instagram!). The grocery store we were referred to was a Save-a-Lot across town. The environment was very different from what we were expecting. Once we got there, there were people sitting outside, some walking around panhandling for money, and once inside the store we felt out of place and outside our comfort zones. We expected to be pushed out of our comfort zones, but it’s another thing to be totally submersed into it and be in the middle of others’ realities and every day life. Once we got back we reflected on the experience, and went to bed after a loooong day.
Day 2: We woke up and headed across to street to the agency we’re partnered with, Kingdom House. Once there we were assigned to different ages within the day care, which was a vibrant and much needed start to our morning. The children ranged from six months to four years old within the day care area. We got to hang out with the kids, do different craft activities leading up to Easter, and played in the gym for active break. After that was finished we got a tour from our lovely Kingdom House volunteer coordinator, Julie. We learned that they have a corner style room for clothing and necessities that are not covered by most federal programs such as feminine hygiene products, toilet papers, diapers, and household cleaning supplies that are sold for only one dollar. Anyone that utilizes the Kingdom House for any program can stop in and by these products along with a variety of clothing. Down the hall, they have an emergency food pantry for individuals that are in a short-term emergency situation (leaving an abusive relationship, house fire, etc.). They also have a variety of classrooms for courses available for all ages focusing on different topics, such as financial advice- budgeting, after school programs, Kingdom House Academy (to help with St. Louis having a lower high school graduation rate), and then ACT prep and assistance with college and scholarship applications. They have done so much for the community since they opened in 1902. What makes them so different is that they are constantly changing to adapt to the actual needs in the St. Louis community and have strong connections with social workers that go out and interact with families on what they need most so that Kingdom House is as helpful as possible.
After volunteering and the tour we had 3 learning sessions focusing on racism. Our first session dealt with defining racism and prejudice and how they are similar and different in the way they impact society. An equation we learned was Prejudice + Power = Racism. We watched a few different videos on these topics and how stereotypes are harmful to individuals. Then we discussed the Department of Justice release report on Ferguson, focusing on the relationship between law enforcement and youth (especially black youth and families). Many of us first learned about “The Talk” families of color have with their children on what to do to come home safe at the end of the day. It was very emotional and heartbreaking and it made us very aware to what we need to do to be an effective ally- which was session 3. The 5 basic rules of being a proactive ally include understanding your privilege, listen and do your homework, speak up but not over, realize you’ll make mistakes and apologize when you do, and then repeat steps #1-4. “Ally is a verb; you’ve got to do the work.” A big takeaway of being an ally and knowing your privilege is that no matter how much you learn or understand about the issue, you will never experience it first hand because of your identities. Each person has differing intersections of identities in which we need to come together with mutual respect and kindness, and celebrate what makes us different from one another.
For dinner we had a very pleasant surprise! Missy Burgess (Assistant Director for Student Involvement) had arranged with her mother (who still lives in the area) to prepare a ‘feast’ for us volunteers at the apartment. She even made a cake for Kelsey’s birthday on Thursday! She was so kind enough to do this for us and we were completely taken aback by her generosity. It was definitely very appreciated by all!!!After dinner we decided to take a walk around the area and explore the city. We found trolleys, the Busch Stadium, and a closer view of the arch. It was a nice ending to our busy day.
Our session on racism
Alternative Break 2016- Kingdom House and St. Louis community
Hello everyone! My name is Brooke Berrens and I am one of the bloggers for the 2016 Alternative Break trip to St. Louis. I am a Women’s and Gender Studies major with dual minors in Studio Art and Music (Vocal Division) graduating this May. I chose to go on this trip since I participated in Alternative Break last year by being the trip leader for the New York group and I wanted to do something again this year for break. Volunteering and making a positive impact has been a big thing for me throughout high school and especially during college, so I am excited to be going out into a new community and working with different identities of individuals with many unique backgrounds. I (along with the rest of the group) am ready learn more about racism, food access and insecurity, and intersectionality from Kingdom House and the St. Louis community.
Lauren Dearth, a blogger for this trip as well, from New Glarus, WI. A Junior majoring in Kinesiology. What I’m most excited for is getting out of Oshkosh and learning about a culture that I have never been part of and helping others!
Kelsey Johnson-Fischer: Coordinator of AV and Technical Services at Reeve Memorial Union; Staff Adviser for St. Louis AB Trip. I was chosen for this trip due to my past experiences with service trips and leadership. I’m excited for experiencing a different culture and a larger city. Also getting to serve within the city of St. Louis in many different areas.
My name is Claire Clough I am a freshman at UW Oshkosh; my major is Environmental Science and a minor in German. I am a member of the Reeve Union Board and Gamma Phi Beta. I choose this trip because I have always wanted to go on a volunteering trip and this was a great opportunity to be able to do some good and be able to do something I love, volunteering. I hope to learn a lot from this trip and be able to use what I learn from this trip in the future.
Sophie Brandstetter: Geography major, environmental studies minor, senior graduating in May! I chose this trip because I have done many service trips before, even another alternative spring break, and I enjoy myself and learn so much every time. As a senior, I thought I should cap off my time here with another meaningful, worth-while trip to serve others and learn new things. I am most excited about sightseeing in St. Louis, hanging out with my new friends and helping others.
Taylor Zimmerman: Junior- Social Work major, Spanish minor. I wanted to go someplace I have never been to before, and I also wanted to be able to give back to a community and a group of people. The St. Louis trip interested me, because we would be working with a population of people and organization directly. As well, I wanted to experience more diversity and learn more about the problem of homelessness in the community of St. Louis and its impact it has on the people and the community there. I am excited to travel to a city that I have never been to before and seeing how it is different from the Oshkosh community. As well, I am excited to get to know everyone else who is going on the trip with me and sharing all the trip experiences, learning, and fun with them!
My name is Elizabeth Turner, a freshman, and also an aspiring nursing student at UWO. I am originally from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin a small tight-knit community dedicated to serving various individuals near and far. My love for volunteerism is something that I take pride in and is something I take very seriously. This trip is a very important to me and will allow me to partake in an adventure that will give me the opportunity to show my compassion and dedication for my volunteerism. I am most excited to submerge myself within a community that is different, and to gain a better understanding for the various conflicts individuals in the St. Louis community may face.
In just 12 short hours we will be meeting at GCC to pack up the vans and hit the road to St. Louis!! We’re excited the trip is finally here and to share what we do with everyone. Check back for our next update 🙂