I’m a one-year-program EMBA student from China. I spent the only spring break I had in an immersion trip other than tourist trip to Miami or California because I wanted to understand more about this country and I wanted to help people wherever I am. I don’t care I wasn’t in many group pictures for sometimes I was the photo taker or sometimes I was busy working. This experience is a treasure to me, through which I got an understanding of poverty in big city and the working system that the society offers help to the hunger and homeless as well as the cherishable friendship with all the members of the group.
After a long drive all the way from Springfield, MO to Chicago, IL, our 14-people group started service vigorously on the second day we settled at HI hostel. St. James Food Pantry in Chicago was our first stop. Cathy, a main staff there, is a kind and devoted lady. She spent about 40 minutes in explaining what was going on in their community and how they were helping the homeless before assigning jobs to us volunteers. According to Cathy, people become homeless for many reasons, such as losing jobs, being disabled, not getting well with their families, having problems like alcohol or drugs. Homeless people may not seem like homeless. Some just go to work without being awared as homeless by their boss. St. James Food Pantry serves 5 neighborhoods and over 200 homeless people. We found a wall pinned up with T-shirts from different volunteer institutes, among which there was also our MSU’s.
My job in the morning was to put 6 cans, including 1 fruit and 1 vegetable at least, into a paper bag which they named Bag No.2 and was standardized by 6 cans, oatmeal, spaghetti, snack, fruits, bread and other diversified foods. Then after scrubbing as required, I helped to prepare cupcakes by putting a couple of them into a small plastic bag. Everyone worked hard and I felt exhausted. During lunch break, Cathy asked each of us to reflect on why you are here, how you helped and what you learned. Everyone took the reflection seriously and was touched by others’ words. We were also overwhelmed by Cathy’s devotion to her career. After that, we regained our energy and passionately served about 44 hunger and/or homeless people who waited in line and then got registered before they got free foods and clothes. I was moved by the genuine smile of Katie, the youngest girl in our group. She’s so sweet and her smile is so pure and I believe she is a real angel in this earthly world.
The next day, we went to learn from the Old Bag Program where the senior ladies told us plastic bags should be reduced and recycled as much as we can to protect the environment and protect animals from eating them and they also taught us how to cut plastic bags into plarns and crochet them into blanket for homeless people to sleep on.
The third place we served was Greater Chicago Food Depository where volunteers helped sort and pack donated foods into small packages. The premise of the Food Depository is located at rural area and the building looks like a pretty big factory. There are 4-5 such big Food Depositories in Chicago and the foods processed are delivered to over 300 small food banks in community, like St. James Food Pantry, all over Chicago. We met 3 other volunteer groups there. Before we got into the food workshop, we were required to put our personal belongings in lockers and scrub and put on caps, gloves, masks and aprons according to their strict policies dealing with foods. Our job that day was to pack pinto beans from huge boxes into small packages 3-pound per bag. We experienced teamwork in factory by different specific jobs, like shoveling, pre-scooping, weighing, labeling, packaging, strapping and delivering. Everyone worked as efficiently as we can and nobody asked for a break during the 3 working hours. We also had fun from such a hard work and communicated with other groups. Finally, the staff there announced we were the most efficient group they had ever seen and we packed 2014 bags in total. What an amazing group we are!
The last day, we served at Benton’s House where 6-7 young college-age people lived and taught younger kids at primary and middle school age there. We helped move bundles and boxes of foods and vegetables from truck into their kitchen and packed up into small bags, and among the foods we surprisingly found the pinto bean bags just like we packed at the Food Depository the day before. Then we helped clean their houses. Another Chinese international student, Stark, and I were asked to help clean a closet in which there was tremendously a mess and the first sight of that, esp. a heap of rat shit which I almost touched by hand, made me depressed. I couldn’t imagine how people could live in such a dirty environment. Stark encouraged me and did the hardest work and quickly well-organized all the items into logic order. At that moment, I felt the light in the closet suddenly became brighter. I was surprised till I learned Stark’s a Math major. When our volunteer hours were over, Collin and Tia remained there and worked 2 more extra hours to help fix their computers.
Later at that night, after group reflection with tears, I met Tia and Isa at lounge. As it was the last night of our trip, I couldn’t help looking answers for the doubts on my mind. Tia and Isa opened their minds and we had a deep talk. From them I learned as much as in the previous 4 days. They helped me to understand what’s poverty, what kind of help’s in need, and how we could do better. Therefore, I understood people in Benton’s House were not living an easy life and they were making their efforts to build a better life of their own and their neighbors.
Addition to understanding and friendship, I’m glad to see that most of the foods Chicago provides to those hunger and homeless people are plant-based foods and diversified by taking nutrition into consideration because that matches my vegetarian value of life, i.e. people don’t have to eat animals to get enough nutrition and the earth has enough foods to feed the whole population of human beings and eliminate hunger only if people choose plant-based foods, which is also more cruelty free and environment friendly by reducing carbon emission.
In the end, I want to thank Darren, Autumn and Ping, our group advisors and leaders. Not only they three always passed their passion to and took good care of everybody, but also they did enormous preparations beyond our knowledge. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until the day we finished our trip and began to write blog. We just know they three have spent a whole year to prepare the one-week immersion trip. Thank to them, our trip was so successful. Thank to them, we built up fantastic friendship.