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Alternative Spring Break 2012

Pace participants outside of Yorkville Common Pantry. Back Row, from Left: Shyam Nooredeen, Zarif Alam, Nicholas Mulvihill, Olivia Allen, Sharon Laviera, Gabrielle DeGaetano, Martha Rodriguez, Rachel Robinson, Alice Villalta, Georgette Vaillancourt, Aniqah Montague, Daniel Botting (Supervisor).

Instead of heading to the beach this spring break, 14 Pace students spent their week confronting the issue of poverty in New York City. Through four days of both educational and service focused programming, students were given a three dimensional view of poverty and how it plays out in New York City. You can check out their daily blogs here.

Students sorted clothes for Housing Works, a non-profit that works to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS; helped individuals in need set up email accounts and upload their resumes as part of an initial job search with the Yonkers Community Action Program; sorted donations for the Food Bank of NYC; and distributed food packages to hungry families for Yorkville Common Pantry in Harlem among other service activities.

These experiences were contextualized through educational programming. The students participated in discussions with homeless advocates and Pace faculty; participated in a workshop facilitated by representatives from the Food Bank of NYC; executed a role playing exercise by Habitat for Humanity; wrote letters to their elected officials, urging them to take action; and met with representatives from Greyston Bakery, a social enterprise that finances affordable childcare for the community, affordable housing for homeless and low income families, and affordable health care for persons with HIV.

This program was developed, planned, organized and supervised by Daniel Botting and Caitlin Kelly of the Center for Community Action and Research (CCAR). It was funded by the CCAR, the offices of Student Development and Campus Activities in both New York and Pleasantville, and by the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences.

Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is an eye opening experience that not only allows one to do work around the city to help those less fortunate, but takes it a step further by giving a feel for what it is like to live in poverty by exposing us to various corporations and introducing us to various people to better articulate the causes and problems extreme poverty presents. On the first day of the ASB we were immediately introduced to the concept of poverty by Professor Guss who explained that poverty is not necessarily 100% based on income but also explained that it was based on a number of things and went into an in depth conversation on the different ways poverty can be measured. He said that a certain percentage was based on income, and another portion has to do with sociological upbringing and position, and another portion based on attitude. These percentages are very important to how poverty develops and why it is so difficult to eliminate. He then said to erase poverty completely you must change the ideologies of not only the people in charge but the poor as well and reform the capitalistic system. I don’t agree with the reformation of the capitalistic system but my experience tells me that there should be a greater awareness of poverty in this society. We always hear various different things having to do with poverty but it is not the same as seeing it first hand and speaking with the people and really understanding where they come from. This awareness alone I feel will be strong enough to change the ideologies of the general public.
Later that day we also volunteered at housing works. This was an organization that gave clothes to underprivileged individuals and also focused on those with HIV/AIDS and other ailments. Basically during the course of the visit our job was to organize clothing based on the stores they were going to, and by the type that they were (ex: shirts went with shirts, pants went with pants ect..). Although I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with too many people, I gained an understanding of the lack of resources some of these organizations have and how much investment goes into training a volunteers. I also, by overhearing background conversation between employees and several of my peers learned of how caring their organization is and how they help those that society has turned a blind eye to a second chance.
This has been a great experience thus far and is getting progressively better as all of the volunteering and work with different organizations is coming together. Each of these organizations plays a huge role and can potentially change people’s lives.

The day started early with a walk to the Yorkville Common Pantry (YCP) only a few blocks away from the Hostel. Even though this day did not keep up with our wonderful weather streak, it still was a beautiful day to carry out the work we’ve started in the beginning of the week.

YCP distributes groceries to between 1600 and 1800 families every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I discovered that even though this program is focused on East Harlem, it also helps various areas throughout the New York City region. The YCP is a community based food pantry and relies on volunteers and the local area to help carry out the program’s mission. However, YCP does not just distribute food to families and individuals. It provides a range of services including shelter, medical services, nutritional education, and support to give affected people the chance to have a healthy, sustainable life.

At the YCP, we all took on different roles within the facility. I was first placed upstairs in the packing room. I sorted and packed various kinds of fresh produce including tomatoes, bread, peppers, onions and carrots. Each produce that was in good condition had to be put in plastic bags in order to make it easier to pack bigger grocery bags for families later on. With all the food that we packaged, we were readily given more food to sort and bag. At some points it was difficult to label the produce as unpalatable for the individuals and families. I realized that I did initially have high standards for my food; only eating fruits and vegetables that were fresh. With the limited amount of food, I found myself hesitating to throw out the food with minimal mold or damage. In some cases these defective parts could be removed. However, there were some disagreements between what quality of food should be in the packages. So many times, even a small defect in the product caused the food to be thrown away.

I felt guilty throwing away these foods. The food could have been distributed to more people, and more families. It made me realize that in some ways many people who had limited access to food had to accept food with a lesser quality. It is a matter between accepting food that is borderline edible and having no food at all.

After a good amount of time had passed, I had an opportunity to work downstairs and be more interactive with the individuals that came to the YCP to pick up bags of food. I sat at the desk, scanning in participants as they arrived. Each member had a card that depicted their designated day and time frame within the day to pick up food. The earliest time block was reserved for individuals consisting of one or two members in the family. Next, there were small families. Last, were the larger families who sometimes reached eight or nine members. If the individual picking up food came later than their time slot, unfortunately they could not redeem their food. It was hard to deny the people. You never know the reason why they are late; if public transportation was backed up, if their job ran late or any other possible difficulties.

Others came much earlier than their depicted times. I had to stack up all of their cards and wait until their time slot approached. They had to wait because the people packaging had to have time to prepare for the larger families.
Other students helped the members of the program pick out what produce they wanted in their grocery bags. There were limitations in the amount of food they could pick out. They were only allowed a certain amount of fruit, protein, and starch. Larger families were allowed more food in their bags. However, with all the food, only a few meals could be prepared for each family member. It was not enough to last the families a full two weeks.

The Yorkville Common Pantry is one of the many programs that try to create healthy and nutritional options available for those who have trouble accessing food. Overall, the YCP creates hope and provides a foundation for others to have the opportunity for a healthy, sustainable life. With all the support that this organization provides, there are still limitations in the amount of food they can provide.

The direct interactions with the members in the program and seeing the organization behind the scenes created bitter sweet emotions for me. I was joyed that I was able to assist the YCP and the members in the program but I also had a feeling of discontent because I could not offer more food, more options or fresher food.

After volunteering at the Yorkville Common Pantry, we all journeyed back to Pace University to write our letter to our local legislature. Although difficult at first, I was finally able to put everything I’ve learned into an issue that I have a new found passion for. I found myself stretching the time I had to write my essay because I did not want to leave. This week helped open my eyes, not only to this ongoing issue of homelessness and poverty, but to the members of the group I have grown so close to. Although all of us seem very different at a glance, we are all unified by our desire to fight for the rights of others and the passion to learn so that we can all become better advocates in support of this issue.

Today we traveled to YCAP in Yonkers where we assist individuals who are seeking possible jobs opportunities sign up for the one-stop program. We helped them using the computer by filing out the online application. Some of us even assist with writing resumes and creating professional e-mail addresses. One of the most interesting things about this event was actually helping them using the computer because it is something we all take for granted but meant a lot for them. I was so astounded by their courage and eager to learn, and the individual that I was assisting was so inspiring that I went ahead and write steps down so he can later continue. I assisted him with creating a resume and an email address. I taught him how to send and receive an email while including an attachment. We started his resume and because of the time limit, I explained to him how he may continue. After YCAP we had a tour of Greyston Bakery where they bake brownies for Ben & Jerry’s. Greyston is unique since they employ individuals who are having a hard time finding jobs. We also had a chance to taste the brownies which was extremely delicious. After Greyston we had a presentation by Kendall Jackman and Ryan Gibbs from Picture the Homeless. As two individuals who have resided in the “system” and experienced homelessness they explained how we can help. Ms. Jackman also discuss how vacant property throughout NYC is being wasted while they can be utilize to shelter the homeless.

ASB Day Four

The day started out with a brisk walk through Central Park to the Yorkville Common Pantry. Yellow flowers, weeping willows and the lake set a positive tone for the day. Once we arrived at the pantry there was already a line waiting out the door. We put down our things and got straight to work. I was sent downstairs to scan in people upon their arrival. The day can be described as organized chaos. The workers were very informative and thankful for our help. Scanning in everyone I learned a lot about the requirements of the pantry. There are few rules once you have your membership. Basically they are to come on your assigned day, at your allotted time and you cannot pick up for more than two people. It was pretty simple to keep the line flowing, but helped keep the whole process in check. Observing the people was interesting. They were vastly diverse. There were senior citizens and children as well as various different races present. At times there was a language barrier. For the non-English speakers coming in I would simply just scan there card and smile. Some of the people were dressed well and others in pajama pants and curlers in their hair. One woman sticks out in my memory because she was drinking straight from a two liter soda bottle. The program tries to instill healthy habits into people so I found this image out of place. Within the building many services are provided. Down where we were working there is also a place for people to get a haircut, shower, shave and do laundry. One man who I am told is mentally disabled left the shaving room and entered our area. He slammed down a can of shaving cream, yelled and proceeded to walk away with nothing but a wife beater on and his khakis. Everyone in the room laughed, but it was a disturbing too. Pat, an elder woman with a thick British accent, volunteers at the Pantry every Thursday. Speaking with her I really got a sense of how genuinely good people can be. She just had such a passion for helping people. I pictured her as a grandmother to all the people coming through the pantry. She inspired me to be more active. Whenever I volunteer I find I have such a good experience. It is so easy to get caught up in other things and not set aside time to take action to aid those in need. She devotes a few hours every week. I think if we all made habits like this the world be in a lot less trouble. Today was my favorite of the trip. It really engaged me. I look forward to going back to Yorkville Common Pantry again.

Day four ASB

Today was another day of packing and separating but with another perspective and cause. Today we went to the Yorkville Common Pantry (YCP) and separated into groups. One of the groups went with the members of the pantry that were in the first stage and were deciding what food they wanted in every section of the food groups. Wirelessly their choices were transferred to a different room where a label with a name and food list is printed and placed on a bag where we place each item in the bag. After collecting all of the items it is then given to the member in person. This day was tiring and very active but so much more rewarding in the end when that bag of food that you have packed yourself is given to a person in need. I enjoyed this day seeing other volunteers who spend their days weekly helping the members and knowing their names. Our group has come to the end of our trip and wrote our letters to a representative on issues that we found this week are important to us. I enjoyed this week and hope that next year many other people apply and are able to do something great with their time. This experience was an eye opener and helped me see and understand more about issues I knew little of.

ASB 2012

This year I decided to not go home for spring break and instead do something a little more enriching and rewarding. During this program, a band of 15 Pace students split between the Pleasantville and New York City campus completed acts of community service in an effort to combat poverty. Today (Thursday March 15, 2012) we went to Yorkville Common Pantry to volunteer. We handled fresh produce that was sent from Food Bank which we visited earlier in the week on Tuesday and we saw specifically where the food from the Food Bank warehouse center was brought. YCP had us split up into groups either placing different fruits and vegetables from boxes into bags in preparation for the individuals or families who were coming to get their groceries for the next two weeks. Some of us essentially went grocery shopping and placed the items they requested, split among grain, protein, fruit, vegetables etc. Others interacted more with the members of the Yorkville Common Pantry and asked them what groceries they were looking for downstairs by taking that information down on a tablet and sending it upstairs for other volunteers to package. I handled a lot of produce and also packaged groceries for the members of YCP. Our group essentially spent the whole day there from 9-2:30, however, I just couldn’t believe how little time we spent there. Although there was a lot of food, it was clear that we were going to run out of certain food items and had to replenish the stocks of fresh produce and nonperishable goods as well. It was interesting to see how much one pound of tomatoes actually is and how that has to last a family for two weeks. I also spoke to a woman who was Chinese and older who didn’t speak English very well so I spoke to her in Chinese and the interactions from the individuals and how grateful they were, was really rewarding. I saw how much there was to do just in those few hours for individuals and families that could be up to 13 and felt like I couldn’t leave. I just wanted to stay and help out as much as I could with the little time I spent there. This week has been an enriching experience and a day. I feel very grateful for having the opportunities that I had this week and will definitely be returning to some of these activities to volunteer again!

Jocelyn Gao

Wednesday, March 14 the Alternative Spring Break group visited Yonkers to help with the West/Cop program. During our visit, we interacted one-on-one with adults living below the poverty line to create an email account and sign up for the OneStep program. This volunteer work was done with the hope that these individuals will now have an appropriate email account, the ability to post a resume, and search for potential jobs.

My experience with this program truly opened my eyes to the importance of Internet access among those living in poverty. As a college student, I tend to take certain things for granted, but after working with Darell, I learned the difficulty getting a job can be without the tools Internet offers.

Darell truly opened my eyes to the issues of the jobless in America. Once his email account was set up, Darell was eager to search various websites for any opportunity that would offer pay. His optimism was inspiring, and his enthusiasm contradicted any stereotypes of the poor being “lazy.” I truly was touched by the experience and am looking forward to working with those in situations such as Durell.

On day one of alternative spring break, we had a speaker come inform us on poverty and this speaker made very interesting points. There was some things he talked about that I was unaware of and I think that people should be aware of these facts about poverty. The first one that I found interesting was that the poverty issue cannot be solved by giving those who are in need money. This is extremely true because although those who are in poverty are in need in money, the money they receive will only last so long and once it is gone, they will be back at square one. Another reason why poverty is reoccuring is because the people who are in poverty become hopeless and do not believe they can ever progress so they stay accept that their lives will never change and remain in poverty. These people need to be aware of there is a chance they can live above the poverty line. Also, one of the causes of the poverty cycle are young mothers who are unable to properly provide for their children, pushing them and their children into poverty. Althought I am aware of the struggle of young mothers, I never knew they added to the cycle.

We went to various locations around NY to explore how communities in Suburban areas outside of NYC who are helping low-income families within the community. We started our trip in the morning in Downtown Yonkers where we visited this facility where we assisted adults who needed computer training. It was a very simple tasks from our perspectives, but we do not realize how simple tasks such as teaching someone how to register to put themselves on a online job seeking website can change someone’s life instantly. We gave these people opportunity to learn how to promote themselves via OneStop to potential employers who may hire them someday. Next in the agenda, we visited Greyston Bakery located by the Hudson River, where we went on a tour with the Marketing director of the bakery. He explained to us how Greyston Bakery is willing to provide the skills and opportunities to people who want the basic building blocks of employment. Specifically, to provide them with the job at the bakery and given chances to gain opportunities to grow with the company such as Greyston Bakery, or to use those skills and a professional mindset in order to move up in the work force in other companies after working with Greyston. After the tour of the bakery, we were given free brownies that were made in the factory, and it was absolutely delicious. Lastly, we had two speakers came to talk to us in the late afternoon who were from Picture the Homeless. They have discussed with us how the shelter system is very unfair to people looking for housing in NY state. Instead of helping people in need of housing, the system actually puts people’s hopes down to think they will ever get an opportunity to live on their own someday. We also discussed how they are a lot of vacant buildings throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC and that government officials and developers are not willing to give those properties up to people who actually need shelter. There were statistics in the pamphlets that were given out in the session with Picture the Homeless discussing how if those vacant buildings were able to be accessed to people who need shelter, homeless people will no longer be on the streets of NY if given that opportunity. However, due to restrictions to even consider that opportunity an actual reality, Picture the Homeless is fighting for the rights of homeless people throughout NY and take a stand to public officials and politicians that actions must be taken place in order to fix the shelter system altogether, and become a fair opportunity to all homeless people who need a decent place of living and also have opportunities again to live a normal life.

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