ASHEVILLE, N.C.-Boxes of macaroni and cheese, rice, granola bars, canned vegetables and fruit are ready for packaging at MANNA FoodBank. An assembly line of students place one of each food item into a plastic bag with the words “MANNA Packs for Kids.”
They’re UW-Milwaukee students participating in a new trend that is defying stereotypes of party-loving college kids: Alternative Spring Break.
“Helping kids is the most important thing,” UWM student Jenna Terek, 19, said. “That’s what I was thinking the whole time.”
Terek is among the 48 UWM students who participated in the Alternative Spring Break Trip to Asheville, N. C. The Campus Activities Board and the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research (CCBLLR) sponsor the trip. The center offers academic service-learning, leadership development and volunteer programs in efforts to increase community engagement among students.
While other students soaked up the sun and relaxed at the beach, participants worked on projects with community agencies like MANNA FoodBank, 627 Swannanoa River Rd. The private nonprofit organization tackles hunger in 16 counties of Western North Carolina.
“One in six in the area [that we serve] is food insecure,” Josh Hoerman, volunteer coordinator at MANNA FoodBank, said. “Our area in Western North Carolina is worse off than some of the other states. It’s kind of a unique situation.”
MANNA Packs for Kids is one program that works to ease hunger. It provides meals to children who participate in the free and reduced lunch program, and who do not have access to three meals a day.
“It kind of just opens your eyes…because there are so many kids that are going hungry,” Terek added.
Students worked quickly to package bag after bag-and fill pallet after pallet-in efforts to get dinners ready for kids. Over the course of five to six hours, UWM students packaged up to 1,800 MANNA packs.
“You don’t really realize how much of an impact six hours at a place can have,” Terek said. “A thousand kids or more are going to be able to eat.”
Although working in a large warehouse may not be appealing to the average college student, UWM student Ciera Lewis, 20, says she was excited to help pack weekend dinners.
“I enjoy volunteering,” Lewis said. “Relaxing would have been nice, but doing something for others is also relaxing.”
As a recipient of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation Dr. John H. & Cynthia A. Jackson Scholarship, Lewis has a service requirement of 175 hours per year. The ASB Trip helps.
This is Lewis’ third year as a participant on the ASB trip. She traveled to New Orleans, La. the first year and Asheville last year. Her return this year is based on previous experiences.
“You really get a chance to impact other people’s lives, you have fun and make new friends in the process,” Lewis added.
The purpose behind the ASB Trip is just that.
The concept behind an Alternative Spring Break Trip began a few years ago. The first ASB Trip took place in the spring of 2012 in New Orleans, La.
Nicky Glaser, Community-Based Learning program manager at the CCBLLR, is one of the trip organizers. She says students leave the trip with a greater knowledge about the social issues affecting cities.
“[It] provides our students an opportunity to gain a more well-rounded perspective on socioeconomic issues that people face in our country, while also providing them with an opportunity to get to know new people, and obtain new skills,” Glaser said.
For students like Terek and Lewis, the experience at MANNA FoodBank opened their eyes to problems related to hunger and food consumption. While volunteering, they learned that 40 percent of food that is produced in the United States is wasted.
The statistic was shocking to Terek, who says she is just as guilty of wasting food. “I know so many times…I don’t want to eat left-overs [and] I’d rather just make something else,” she said. “It just makes you think twice about your consumption habits.”
Beyond the lessons and experiences, students also gain something more.
“The students who attend the ASB trip gain a renewed sense of motivation to participate in service in Milwaukee,” Glaser said.
Lewis says that she is interested in volunteering at food pantries like The Gathering and the Hope House of Milwaukee. “It would be interesting to know how many people depend on the food banks [in Milwaukee], compared to Asheville,” she said.
Terek also thinks the trip raises awareness for the work done in Milwaukee. She encourages other students to serve in the community.
“Even if you think you have no time to volunteer,” Terek said. “Even a couple of hours can make such a big difference.”