ASB NJ: Rebuild the Shore!

Sunday 3/16

We left Lafayette this morning to start the hour long trip to the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, where we were staying for the week. The issue is disaster relief, specifically Hurricane Sandy relief along the Jersey Shore. Our team leader is Abby Williams and our learning partner is Jen Rao. The club is in the most dangerous part of Newark: the central ward. We were safe as long as we did not live the premises; a high fence surrounded the premises and it was generally regarded by the community to be a safe zone. The club itself was just given a complete makeover by the Snowflake Foundation (gives large grants prior to super bowl) for a quarter of a million dollars. The gym, pool, and game room areas were all new. Shaquille O’Neill had come here as a child and so he signed the gym floor! The club would host about 57 people from various universities either working with children in the Newark community or going to the shore area to do rebuilding, as we were. But we would never take a walk around Newark outside the club, which highlights another issue in the community. In our United Way orientation, the directors of the program, Adam and Brian, informed us that we would be helping those people who are considered ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, yet Employed). We would be fortunate enough to have breakfast, lunch and dinner provided by United Way (the group that runs the Alternative Spring Break [ASB] program). The kids who come to the Boys and Girls Club often have their school lunches and the guaranteed snack at the club as their only food on a given day. That was hard to comprehend. Every day, we will be working almost eight‑hour days rebuilding homes on the shore that were damaged by wind and flooding, by as much as eight feet of water in many areas! This is a daunting task while sleeping little on cots in a classroom, but it’s all a learning experience and I hope to get a lot out of it.


Monday 3/17

Day 1: Little did I know this would be the beginning of my lights out at 10:30pm and wakeup at 6:15am week. We all slept in the same classroom and this is the first time I have ever heard seven alarms go off at once. I kept the same routine every day: pack my lunch (a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips, and carrot sticks), eat a quick breakfast of cereal and a banana, get ready in the locker room/bathroom we were using, and I was good to go. My grogginess from the early start made me take over an hour each morning to get ready, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about that. We drove to Keansburg for our orientation with Eric, the general contractor in charge of the volunteer labor. He told us that 346,000 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in New Jersey. Of those, 10,000 were in Monmouth County (where we were) and since September, the AmeriCorps/United Way partnership has helped move 20 families in the county move back into their homes. We started our orientation in a house that looked normal on the outside, but the inside revealed that the house was completely unfinished, with all the structural boards and insulation showing. We then walked a short distance to another house a few blocks away. It looked homey, with painted walls and a nice kitchen. Eric then told us that this house had been completed by volunteer labor, and that this is what we were capable of. Initially, a lot of money was poured into Sandy relief efforts. Now, volunteer labor is needed, which decreases the cost to the homeowner by 2/3 to 3/4 of the total. Shortly after the storm, the state of New Jersey passed a law requiring these shore houses to be raised to prevent future disasters if the house was 51% or more flooded. This applied to most of the shore houses. This means that the house’s former first floor becomes its second floor, and a new basement type level is created on the first floor. These ALICE homeowners could afford to have their houses raised or rebuilt, but not both. That is why this work is so crucial. Among our group, we discussed how many Sandy relief organizations feel forgotten, because a year and a half after the storm Sandy is old news in the media. As we walked down the street, we saw some houses that had been rebuilt, but most had been untouched, barely begun being rebuilt, or were just empty lots as the houses were washed away and no rebuilding attempt was made. I could barely comprehend what I was seeing. I had seen the numbers on how many houses had been damaged, how many billions had been lost in the storm. But never in my dreams had I really grasped what that really meant until this moment. After our orientation, we proceeded to our first house in Monmouth to do a paint job. The house had been raised, the walls and ceiling were put up, and primer had already been applied. We were there to paint the walls and ceilings. I didn’t know that this meant not one but two coats of paint and a touch up following each coat. It was rough getting our technique down, but we got pretty good at it. We returned to the Boys and Girls Club around 6pm only to realize that dinner was an hour off and we couldn’t shower until after dinner. When in Rome! That evening after dinner, we discussed what we would shoot with the camera for our documentary. Even on day one it was clear that the storm has not had the attention it deserves and we were going to do our part to ensure that the awareness is out there.


Tuesday 3/18

We woke up again at an early hour and got to the house around 9:30 to begin working. In the morning before our service, we stopped and stared as we saw a house that had been raised. It was a strange looking house: it was a one-story house that was raised up to be two stories, but its only support was six wooden stilts! There wasn’t even a way to enter the house as work was still being done. Now I truly understand what it meant to raise a house. Today we had a lot of work to do, so Abby came up with a plan to divide the work so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. By the end of the day, with the exception of a closet and touching up, we had successfully painted the ceilings and walls of the whole house with two coats. A group of donors walked through the house and told us how impressed they were with our work. We were told later that the homeowner is a single father and his daughter. They had previously paid a contractor to do the job, but he did a horrible, partial job, took the money and fled to Europe. This is why groups like United Way are so necessary. After our service, we drove to Seaside Heights for a closer look at how Sandy impacted other shore communities. The town had previously been in the media for having its pier destroyed and a roller coaster carried into the ocean, the boardwalk damaged beyond repair, and a destructive fire a few months later. The roller coaster remained in the ocean for several months, as an embarrassment to the entire town. As it was March and cold, very few businesses were open on the rebuilt boardwalk. We stopped into one restaurant that was open, JR’s. We talked to the owner, who told us that most business owners on the boardwalk lost all of the possessions that they left behind on their lower levels. Those with flood insurance had the insurance companies claim it was wind damage, and those with homeowners insurance (which covers wind damage) had the insurance companies claim it was flood damage. So many victims of Sandy was not paid for the damage, whether they were businesses or households. Sandy was not kind to New Jersey in more ways than one.


Wednesday 3/19

When we arrived at the site this morning, we finished touchup and cleanup. The entire house painted in just under 2.5 days! It can take weeks to paint a house, but we did it in days. This is not rebuilding New Jersey by any means, but we were able to help in at least one small way. It was a proud feeling to know what we had accomplished. It was gratifying to see the homeowner walk through the house and comment on how much had been done. A friend of the owner’s said that the last time she had walked through the house it had barely had floorboards! Even when it was time to quit and go home after half a day  of working we couldn’t leave. We didn’t want to leave the house a mess with wet paint out and paint brushes everywhere. We stayed behind and cleaned at the risk of being late. Our group really cares about getting the job done, and the impression I got from the AmeriCorps leaders is that this was not always the case with other groups. After half a day of work, we drove to the Staten Island ferry and took it to Manhattan around 4:30. We didn’t have enough time to go to the museum with an exhibit on Hurricane Sandy, unfortunately, but we did have enough time to go to Magnolia Bakery near Rockefeller Plaza! Well worth a week of no desert. The German Chocolate cupcake was irresistible. We then proceeded to Times Square, took a group photo, and had dinner at Tony’s Italian restaurant at the square with two Lafayette alums who graduated approximately ten years ago and were presidents of ASB. One of them was recently on the board for Breakaway (the national organization in charge of ASBs). They had gone on all the ASB trips that their college career would allow and were glad to see that we were donating our time during our spring break to rebuild New Jersey. One of the alums was from New Jersey and was personally affected by the storm: Sandy damaged his heating system; he had no heat, so his pipes froze and then burst. He was forced to stay with a friend for weeks. It was gratifying to talk to someone who had gone on all these ASB trips and talked about how their experiences affected them, because it confirmed what I had been beginning to understand all along. ASB trips really do affect you for the rest of your lives in a way nothing else will. On the way out, I noticed a wooden frame of a small house in the middle of the square. It turns out that Habitat for Humanity was building a house to raise awareness. It was good to know that the storm was not so quickly forgotten. We took the ferry and drove the van back late at night only to discover in the middle of Newark, three blocks from the Boys and Girls Club, we had a flat tire. We were lucky to be able to drive it back to the parking lot.


Thursday 3/20

Abby and Jen were kind enough to wake up early to call AAA and get the van fixed. Enterprise just ended up giving us another van. We ended up getting to the site the same time as the second van that left on time because they ran into horrible traffic. We drove to the first house to do one final checkup on the house. The AmeriCorps people were impressed and we finished by lunch. We took pictures of our work to show people back home what was going on here and what a small team could do to make a difference. The next stop was a different house, this time in Union Beach. The house was within sight of the ocean and Manhattan itself. This put it in a very vulnerable position for flooding. This house was in the early stages of rebuilding, and while a different team painted the upstairs, we placed drywall on the ceiling of the newly created “basement-looking first floor”. The contractor Eric had informed us that many of the houses in the bay area had been destroyed or carried into the bay, yet again with no insurance payments. This house was lucky enough to still be intact, but it had been flooded throughout. This raised an important question in my mind: who does the volunteer labor besides the spring ASB groups? The answer: they get a few more college groups to come over the summer and a few one day corporate groups, such as those from Johnson & Johnson, Vonage, and Nordstrom. That is about it. It is hard to imagine that as much can be accomplished in a day of service, however, when it took us a day to get into a routine. This observation was reinforced by our experience of learning how to install drywall in the afternoon. We used lifts to raise 8’ by 4’ pieces of drywall to the basement ceiling and used power tools to drill screws holding the drywall in place on the wooden beams. It took practice, we had to drill many holes in plywood before we got the angling and positioning correct. But we did mount several pieces of drywall before we had to leave for the day.


Friday 3/21

We started the day with our last Dunkin Donuts run. It was emotional. I got hooked on the medium iced coconut coffee during the week and it’ll be hard getting back to my normal coffee. I know I wasn’t the only one hooked on caffeine. Even at this point in the trip we knew that we had bonded as a group. Abby suggested we continue our spirit of service by doing Lafapalooza in the spring and there was unanimous approval. The dream team can never die! Before starting for the day, I had the privilege of discussing what had happened during the hurricane in Union Beach with the homeowner. She said that they had lived in the house since before Hurricane Irene. When that hurricane hit, the storm damage was negligible so warnings were ignored and they did not evacuate. When they heard warnings for Sandy, they ignored them as well, only to change their minds and evacuate when they saw the creek down the street had swelled. They took enough clothes for a week and left everything else behind. What followed was six feet of flooding that swept away all their possessions. Their house has been under repair ever since. As somebody who grew up on a house on a hill, this was beyond my comprehension. I had to step back for awhile to comprehend what I was hearing. Sandy changed lives in more ways than many realize. We continued to help to Eric to drywall the ceiling and by the end of the day had completed half of the basement. It was an amazing achievement considering most of us had never even heard of drywall the day before. Eric was very impressed with what we were able to accomplish, and said how most groups were not this eager and dedicated. I left the site with a greater appreciation for the care required to build a house and more of a comprehension of how much work is still required to bring the Jersey Shore back to where it was before Sandy. During our group reflection, the consensus was that we all now knew, if we didn’t before, how much help was really needed still, a year and a half later, long after the media had forgotten about Sandy. We know firsthand how promised insurance money was not received, how entire boardwalks were damaged beyond repair, and how a bustling town turned into vacant lots. We only hope we can convey this in our documentary. I’m glad that I’m more aware of what is going on practically in my own backyard. After all, I spent summers for the first fourteen years of my life at the Jersey Shore. The least I can do is help to bring it back. We returned to the Boys and Girls Club for Launch Night. Formerly known as closing ceremonies, Launch Night is designed to launch us into the rest of our lives as active members of the community. They discussed that the issues we saw here are not unique to this area. They are everywhere, if we know where to look. They did not expect that we would all become United Way volunteers. Their goal was to have us see what was going on in these communities and to take this spirit home, back to wherever we would be going the next day and for the rest of our lives. They gave us Live United t-shirts and water bottles to remember our experience. But I will not need these to remember this experience. What I have seen here has impacted me in ways that I am still processing. I won’t forget the friends I have made and how together we made a difference. I can’t forget the accounts of the devastation from the homeowners and how much work still needs to be done. If I have learned anything at all, it’s the power of one and the power of understanding and awareness.

Where has the week gone?

At the end of the first day at Community Servings, I was unsure how I would make it through the rest of the week.  Although the day was enjoyable, the feeling of exhaustion was overwhelming and the thought of starting the next day at 8 am was not a pleasant one.  During the first night of reflection, all I could think about was the admiration I had for the amount of energy and effort that each worker and volunteer poured into the tasks they were involved in.  It was amazing to me how this energy carried throughout the day and continued to grow throughout the week.  The atmosphere in the kitchen was one that I am so happy to have been able to experience.  It was a feeling of belonging and importance and most of all it was simply fun.  Positivity radiated from everyone in the kitchen (even from those with pruney fingers from washing dishes for hours).  Of the many lessons I could take away from Community Servings, the most prominent for me was that having a positive attitude is essential, even when it is not easy.  Remember to put on a positive attitude each day, the same way you put on an item of clothing, and eventually it will become second nature.

I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to share in such a wonderful experience with some of the most amazing people I have ever met.  The strong bond that our team has formed over the span of just one week was something I had not expected, but now it is something that I am grateful for.  In the Community Servings kitchen we did not work as individuals.  We were the many parts, that together, made up a well-oiled machine. Community Servings will continue to run as the well-oiled machine it is, even after we have made our way back to Lafayette.  It is sad that we will not continue to be a part of their daily routine, but we can all appreciate the opportunity that allowed to catch a small glimpse into the remarkable organization that is Community Servings.

On Friday, another day of service had come and gone as quickly as the last.  We removed our gloves, hairnets and aprons for the last time and after a round of thank you’s and hugs, our team made our way to the T.  We walked out the doors of Community Servings with hopefulness that this would not be a goodbye, but instead a see ya later.

I Wonder What We Do Now?

I struggle with wrapping up our last days in Boston. I’m not sure what I should write, what needs to be conveyed, and most importantly how to convey it. I want readers to leave with a sense of profound understanding and depth after reading this post, but I am unsure if I would be able to accomplish that. What brilliant words of wisdom can I impart…? I’m sitting in the dining area of Hosteling International staring out the window at cars going by, people bustling to and from their destination, and a city going about business as usual.  I’m struck with the knowledge that when we leave, Boston will still continue to run the way it always has, with or without us. Depressing? No. It’s enlightening and refreshing. I’ve come to realize that I can’t wait for opportunities to come to me. Rather, I need to actively search for a way to make a difference because life won’t wait for me. The world doesn’t stop until I can get my bearings and figuring that there are people in need. Things keep happening whether I lift a finger to help or not, but where do I want to place myself in the continuum?

Volunteering at Community Servings (shout out to Fernandez, Lekisha, Kevin, Melissa, Chief Pierre, Sean, and any others that I forgot to mention) was an incredible and physically laboring experience. I would come back to the hostel after 7 hours of kitchen duty and slip into a state of blissful unconscious awareness of anything and everything (aka sleep) and wake up with the acute need to be back in the kitchen listening to Dark Horse and Happy for the umpteenth time (the soundtrack to our ASB trip by the way, right Ricky?), joking with the kitchen staff and making meals that help sustain the lives of over 800 people. I think back at the week we’ve had, the impact we’ve made, and the friendships forged and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get out of the cyclic nature of me, myself, and I. The challenge for me is to not let this experience end. I need to remember what we’ve done here this past week and the lessons we learned.

So how do I end this blog? The only way that seems fitting for someone who has absolutely no social media accounts… in hashtags! Hope you’ve enjoyed reading our rants, because we sure enjoyed writing them.Remember that happiness starts with you, life is like a box of chocolates, and that if change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

#bestasbteamever  #inbedwithricky  #alexisissassy  #darkhorse  #happy   #Fernandez  #vamanos  #thefishismyfriend   #duh  #noben   #zackisasociopath   #deanofsex  #eugeneitsyourmother  #RICHARD  #dishroom  #lickingtrainpoles  #rickyisalwayshungry  #tacoteam  #holymatrimonybatman  #pitchperfect  #deliberation  #tunahands  #earlyisontime   #nowastingtime  #reflections  #teambonding  #deepconversations  #14inches  #Bahhhbrah  #passion  #20seconds  #weirdart  #carrotsfordays  #pierevelation  #stacydancing  #aleve  #chickengrease  #whatisspringbreak  #HostelingInternational  #socialjustice  #makingadifference   #activecitizen #communityservings  #landiscenter  #ASB  #Boston  #newyorkisbetter  #sonotsorry

Skimming a few of the previous posts, it’s apparent that there has been plenty said about the nature of our service work with Community Servings; so, rather than talk more about our volunteer work, I thought I would discuss the activities we did today outside of volunteering.  Following a 9 – 3:30 work day (we were let out early, woo!), we took the T back to our hostel to change quickly before heading off to The Institute of Contemporary Art.  Apparently, there is free admission every Thursday to the gallery there, so the majority of the group went to check out the exhibit and meet up with Claire, a Lafayette alum, at the museum.  While I personally am not huge on contemporary art, I knew it would be a good time with my team members and well worth skipping an afternoon nap.

After getting slightly turned around on the way to the museum (luckily we had Carly and Aubrey to figure out where to go), we made it and met up with Claire.  Because we are the awesome, and slightly goofy, group of people we are, we spent the first 45 minutes coloring at the museum before heading to see the art.  Once we did see the art though, we were quick to appreciate how incredible some of the pieces are.  While some were confusing to the average viewer, others were easy to see the intricacy required for such works.

Following the museum, we had some great talks and picturesque views of the Boston Harbor at sunset on the way to Cheers, a restaurant in Faneuil Hall, to meet up with the rest of our group.  Once at Cheers, we all indulged in some fantastic food, conversation, and even got to celebrate Carly’s ½ birthday and Julia Ben Asher’s ¼ birthday!  While we were all pretty excited about that, it was no comparison to the excitement for Mike’s pastries after dinner.  Mike’s pastries was a quick walk from Cheers and served some of the best pastries in Boston, with our group no doubt being their best customers of the night.  Stuffed and full of energy/sugar, the team trekked back to the hostel to call it a night.

While today was great, one of the main take-a-ways I have from not only today but this trip in general is that life is all about the people in it.  This group has really bonded this week, an example being the deep conversations we have on a regular basis to learn more about each other.  This communication has led us to get to know each other well, and made spending time together a blast.  I think we are all excited about our bittersweet last day at Community Servings tomorrow, but looking forward to heading back to Laf Saturday as well.

The Characters That Make Up Our Boston Trip

So I just read the blogs from my past team mates and I realized that, although a lot has been written about our experiences while working at Community Servings, few touched upon the individuals that make this group so unique. And so I have decided to share with you a glimpse of what makes the Boston group so special.

To be honest, it’s kind of hard to pick a starting point, but given the fact that we do have a dean as our learning partner, I guess we could start with Gene….  (BTW, Ricky literally just walked into our hostel’s dining area wearing Alexis’ flowery winter hat, and proceeded to call it a B!%#h hat. What is wrong with this man? )… But as I was saying, Gene Kelly. I mean, how could the trip possibly be a disaster when you  have the Dean Of Sex as your learning partner? (yes we do talk about sex a lot, but I swear it’s always for academic purposes) I had very minimal interaction with him before coming on this trip, and I therefore had no idea what to expect from him. But I can honestly say that he was probably the best Learning Partner we could have ever had. He has been very present in our discussions and I attribute the groups openness and ability to laugh with, and at, each other to his candid and easy going personality. He has become more than a teacher. He is a dear friend that I’m sure most of us  have come to love and cherish.  He has also been our driver and chef, but I can you blame us? The man can cook and we can barely make breakfast on our own.

We also have Ricky who, as you can see from above, is quite a trip. If you do not know who he is, get to know him. He is one of the nicest, most goofy, slightly attractive guys you will ever meet and he makes us all want to go to bed with him #inbedwithricky (but not actually. His bed is just closer to the door so we all just congregate on and around it all the time. don’t listen to him if he says otherwise).  And then there’s Alexis. I’m not sure how to even describe her. You will not know it when you first meet her but she’s incredibly hilarious and makes us all laugh uncontrollably, especially  when it’s not socially acceptable. Interestingly, she never really has to say much to do it either. It’s all in her face, which makes is it a lot harder for strangers to understand why we would all just suddenly burst out laughing at 8 AM while riding the T on our way to Community Servings. She make’s as all look crazy but it’s ok because we love it. Also, Ricky thinks that she’s not real and an enigma. I’ll let you decide. Know her!

We also have Jolly who is such a sweet heart (Unless you are late. Please do not waste her time. You’ve been warned), both Julias who are great, Carly who is not only funny and nice, but also has an amazing sense of direction (we would all be lost about 95% of the time if she was not here), Ashley who is such a trooper and always ready to help you out (get her on your team and you will be successful. thank me later) , Barbra, AKA Barabara, who’s secretly sassy and  very good at getting her way (I’m not sure how she always manages to get people to listen to her. It’s an art form) Aubrey who’s basically like the mom of the group, Zach who’s a GENIUS ( no seriously, he is) and ME. I’m sassy so there’s that.

I can not fully encapsulate all that we are in one blog entry but I could honestly say that we would not be complete if each of us did not contribute to the mixing pot that is our team. We spend a lot of time together, literally day and night, and although it’s sometimes challenging,  it’s amazing to see how our friendships have developed and just how well we work together. This dynamic makes it easier to carry on that positive attitude to the kitchen and make the service that we provide all the more special.  I wish you could all experience all the fun and laughter that we share but we can’t all be this great. But that’s ok. You could get to know us all instead and maybe, just maybe, you could experience some of the magic. See you soon,

From Boston,


Why are we here?

We’ve now completed Day 3 of service at Community Servings in Boston. Our schedule has been kept fairly constant each day: wake up and be ready to leave by 8:15 (ok, 8:20), take the T a few stops down to Stony Brook Station, walk two blocks to Community Servings, and then do whatever needs to be done to get delicious and appetizing meals ready to be delivered to the hundreds of terminally ill clients that depend on them.

The other blog posts by my fellow Boston ASBer’s provide a great description of the work that we do while we’re volunteering at Community Servings, so I won’t delve into that aspect of the work in this post. Instead, I want to reflect on some of the things that I expected from this trip, and how it’s been pretty much the exact opposite of those expectations.

When I found out that we were going to be preparing food as our ASB service trip, my initial reaction was along the lines of, Can’t we do that in Easton? While I enjoy giving back to communities and don’t mind preparing food as service, I couldn’t understand why we needed to drive 250 miles in order to do it. Even the fact that the food was going to be delivered specifically to those with terminal illness such as HIV and cancer didn’t help me understand. It wasn’t until we entered Community Servings and Malissa gave us our Volunteer Orientation and Safety Training on our first day that it sunk in. We didn’t come all this way to prepare food. We traveled 284 miles to participate in the amazing operation that is Community Servings. We came to create and package healthy, nutritious, well-planned, meals for those whose medicine cocktails could total thousands of dollars per month, dollars that could therefore not be spent on nutritious food that would provide a potentially life-saving boost their weakened bodies and immune systems.

As mentioned in a previous post, there is a very strict guideline as to how (with hot water and soap for at least twenty seconds) and when (every time your hands come near your face, or you change tasks) to wash your hands. While I’ve read this sanitary information on print outs in bathrooms spanning the world, I never actually felt it necessary to waste twenty of my precious seconds washing my hands. Never, that is, until Malissa informed us that this protocol is in practice in Community Servings because if a disease, even a common cold virus, is passed on to the clients from the food, it could be life-threatening to their weakened bodies. These sanitary practices are strictly enforced at Community Servings not because the management wants us to have super clean hands; they’re enforced because each person working or volunteering there knows what could be at stake (a life) and chooses to hold each other responsible for that.

And this is why I have come to realize that volunteering at Community Servings instead of the local food pantry is worth the time and effort to come all the way to Boston. I’ve never seen a food service program put so much effort, thought, passion, and love into the food that they provide. Although we only have two more days of service with Community Servings, I’m so glad that I’ve gotten the chance to work there so that I could see what service can be, and maybe someday bring that level of dedication to others as well.

It’s more than volunteering…

Last night the team decided to do a scavenger hunt around Boston which included strange tasks such as planking on a monument,  asking a stranger to buy you milk or my ultimate favorite,  telling a stranger “its nice to finally talk to someone outside of the insane asylum.” This was a fun activity to not only get outside of our comfort zone, but to bond as a team. I remember at the very first meeting we had in the fall, we talked about things such as what your major is or career options, but now that we all know each other on a deeper level, our interactions and conversations are more meaningful.

Even though most of us had a long night, we were eager to start our day. There was another group from Indiana, so for the first part of the morning we were working in the back.  Ricky, Stacy and I were asked to make lasagna. Some of it was for lunch, but the rest was for the individuals they serve. We all carefully made sure we spread the sauce, eggplant, cottage and shreded cheese. We could have done it quickly because the Chef wasn’t paying much attention, but we took our time because presentation is key. My mother tells me that if she made food for my grandmom and it wasn’t presented properly, she would not eat it. So I thought about this. I wanted them to feel happy when they opened their bags with an assorted array of meals and desserts. Yesterday, when Ashley and I were scooping fruit cocktail into containers,  I made sure that every container had a cherry so when the people opened it, it would brighten their day. The rest of the day consisted of cleaning dishes ( thanks Barbara and Ashley) and packaging and storing the food. Fernandez gave us all a slice of cake which made me feel good that he cared about all of us and wanted us to take a break.

After the delicious dinner, we had reflection. As reflectors, Ashley and I thought it was important to ask about the target audience who is receiving the food. We asked “what would you do or how would you react if your roommate was HIV positive?” Answers varied from informing oneself more on HIV/AIDS, feeling uncomfortable or being extremely cautious.  These questions may have been difficult to discuss, but they are important because we have to keep in prospective who we are volunteering for. We cannot just package food and then come back to our Hostel.  That is not enough. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and I am happy that we have all created a safe space where we can discuss these topics because after all what is service without reflection?

Day Three – Community Servings ASB Boston

How quickly time flies! It is already the middle of the week. This is my third ASB trip, and just like the two previous ones, every day taught me sometime valuable that I will remember for the rest of my life. I absolutely love ASB and one of my favorite parts is seeing the team effort that comes out of all of us. Each trip, no matter what service or what community it is, requires a collaborative effort from the team. I love seeing that process happen and this week I was fortunate enough to see it happen in Community Servings in Boston.

My first day in the kitchen was a crazy one. I’ve never used a knife before and they assigned me to chop carrots. I was terrified of the huge knife I was swinging down on those big carrots. But I conquered my fear by asking lots of questions and seeking feedback on how I was doing by asking my team members. Slowly, I became more comfortable with the big knife and chopping carrots became fun, haha. I worked in the assembly line in the afternoon to prepare about 400 more food trays. I didn’t realize how tiring it is to stand in one line for 4 hours. But no matter what I did, I always worked in a team and things were accomplished quickly. This whole kitchen is a team — without the team, Community Servings would not be able to serve its 850 clients daily.

The level of details that the organization puts into the appearance of each food item that they prepare amazed me. I learned that it’s really important to make the clients feel that they are being cared for and that we’re not just slopping some food into some dirty trays for them. I feel that I’m connecting my emotions to the clients through the amount of sincerity, dedication, and attention that I put into preparing all the food ranging from pies to fruits to cereal to soup. The second day, I had to cut about 50 pies into 8 pieces each. This is only my second day of using a knife, but I wanted to make each slice of pie look really neat and clean. I took my time cutting them and eventually my skin started becoming irritated from all the cutting. My wrists were tired, but I kept going anyways. I wanted each client to enjoy the pie and feel happiness from the deliciousness of this food. I’ve gained that if the clients don’t want to eat the food, then all of our efforts go to waste. Thus, the aesthetics of each detail is really important and crucial. Also, the food they’re receiving is rich in nutrients that is extremely beneficial to their health. It’s not just “rice and beans” because the beans had to be specially protein prepared before they add it to the rice. These food will help the clients absorb the pills better in their digestion systems. But even more importantly, I want the clients to feel that there are people who care about them. They are not alone in this world. In this case, I’m showing them my emotions through the prepared food. I know they are able to feel it through our nutritious and carefully prepared and packaged food.

I closed the lids for about 1200 containers of fruit cocktail and apple sauce this morning. In this process, I’ve learned that Community Servings also caters to charter schools and high schools. This is one of their ways of earning money to buy more food and supplies for Community Servings. Although the food was only for charter schools and high schools, I was still carefully wiping away the sides of the containers and making sure each package was beautifully and neatly prepared. I’ve realized that the lessons, observations, and genuine sincerity of this kitchen really found its roots in me. The clients who have HIV or other chronic diseases really appreciate everything Community Servings has done for them. I feel fortunate to be a small part of process and work together as a team with the kitchen staff and my Lafayette friends on this trip to learn, help, and give back to the Boston Community. I truly look forward to going to Community Servings every day. Wish time would pass by more slowly because I would love to do more for them!

Day Two with Community Servings

Today was our second day of service with Community Servings! We arrived early today, washed up, and were immediately put to work. While yesterday morning’s task was chopping vegetables, the first part of today was devoted to pies. In an assembly-line style setup, one person would cut a pie, the second would scoop the slices into containers, and a third would seal each individual container.

Although many of the kitchen duties are mechanical enough not to require mental engagement, the pies were an exception: it took a great deal of concentration to make sure that each slice came out looking presentable and not crumbled or dilapidated. As I produced serving after individual serving of pie, I reflected on the other end of our process. Although the appearance of a piece of pie does not affect its taste, the presentation of the meals that we prepare certainly has a psychological effect on the clients who receive them. By taking special care to make sure that each slice is visually appealing, we were making an important impact on Community Servings’ client base. Even though we have not had direct contact with the clients, in this way, I was able to feel connected to them.

Throughout the day, I had the opportunity to meet several of the other volunteers working in the kitchen, including a local priest who comes to the kitchen twice a month and a student completing requirements for a degree in nutrition. These encounters were both interesting in themselves and a refreshing reminder of all that exists outside the college “bubble.” There is a multitude of reasons why people from all backgrounds and walks of life devote themselves to service like that which were are performing at Community Servings, and yet within the realm of the kitchen, we are all on an equal playing field.

After dinner and reflection, most of us headed out to downtown Boston for a scavenger hunt! We split into the two teams and raced to complete tasks including taking photos with monuments, hugging and dancing with strangers, performing in T stations, and even proposing marriage! Overall, we bonded as a group, explored the city, and came to realize how friendly and accepting the people of Boston can be.

The time is already passing so quickly- it’s hard to believe that our service is almost halfway done! I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Boston’s first day of service!

We’ve been in Boston for a few days now, but because we arrived on Saturday evening, today (Monday) was our first day of service! We were all up bright and early–whether that was by choice or not–and scooted our way through the frigid Boston monring cold and a few T-stops to our community partner, Community Servings. Community Servings is a volunteer-run nonprofit in Jamaica Plains that prepares and delivers meals to Bostonians who are chronically ill. Its logo of a steamy soup bowl is painted on the outside of the building.

The kitchen buzzed around us, clearly having been in full swing since dawn, but first things first. We sat around a table and within a half an hour were debriefed by Melissa, the volunteer manager, on enough information to pass any food management certification test out there. Since Community Servings’ recipients generally have extremely compromised immune systems, kitchen protocol and hygiene are of utmost importance. We all fit on hairnets, then washed our hands for the strict 20-seconds (at LEAST), then added on our aprons, then non-latex gloves. We looked fantastic. We also were slowly realizing how critical the use of our hands is. Even pushing your glasses up on your nose or rubbing a tiny itch on your face is cause for a hand wash and glove change, starting at square 1. The journey had begun.

Some of us chopped vegetables while others stirred gigantic pots; some worked in swift assembly lines; some manned the packaging machine. The whole kitchen was a well-oiled machine, the staff and more experienced volunteers directing us kindly–but not in a babying way–around our duties. The radio blasted song after song, and no one missed the opportunities to dance as they worked. Side conversations and duets were constantly popping up all over the kitchen. We were amazed and encouraged by how healthy and tailored to each individual’s medical needs each part of each meal was, and by how much and how genuinely the staff cared for every single product going out to recipients. It was pretty inspiring.

The kitchen staff and volunteers themselves were quite the bunch. We felt more and more welcomed by them by the minute. One woman was there because her husband was in treatment and received Community Servings’ foot packages, so she volunteers most days out of the week. Another volunteer spoke mostly Spanish, but that didn’t stop him from joking around with non-Spanish speakers. There were two girls about our own ages who’d been volunteering for a while. A woman who’d worked there for years danced around with everyone around her with the spunkiest energy I’ve ever seen on anyone, made more impressive by her older age and by how much progress in bagging lunches she was accomplishing at the same time.

By 4 pm, we could feel the day spent on our feet, and the rawness of dozens of washes on our hands (the team calculated that we collectively washed our hands 190 times today, or for 3,800 seconds, the equivalent being just over an hour). The subway ride back to Boston International Hostel was a relief to be able to sit down and a triumph in realizing how well the day had gone, and how much we enjoyed the organization with which we’ll be spending the next week. After a dinner of tacos in the hostel cafeteria, we had a great reflection in a circle of couches, we tossed some thoughtful ideas around about the organization and how we are fitting into it. Solid talk. Also a talk tinged with some slight exhaustion-caused delirium from the long day. We settled down into an evening of doing some work and going for a night stroll around the city, but our ridiculously energy-filled group was all snoring away by just after 11 pm so we can wake up tomorrow and do it all over again, and more.