Participants of this year's LaGrange College Alternative Spring Break trip to Orlando in April said their experiences were life-changing.
The group of nine students and three staff members worked with Community Food and Outreach Center in its grocery and thrift store, and in the warehouse of Stop Hunger Now.
Sarah Carter, a senior from Riverdale, said the trip brought her face to face with the problem of hunger, and has inspired her to make it a personal mission to find ways to provide food and natural resources to the hungry.
"Knowing that a child goes to bed hungry every night truly bothers me," she said. "I will do everything I can to make that stop."
The Rev. Blair Tolbert, Director of Student Ministries, said this ASB was designed to be a little different.
"The unique experience about this trip is how students reflected and engaged with agencies that are helping to end local and global hunger," she said. "I was touched by how hard they worked, and what they gained personally and spiritually."
There was time for fun, though, as the group spent the first day of the week at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.
"We rode all the park rides we could," Sarah said. "I hadn't been on a roller coaster since middle school, but I had a great time."
On Tuesday, they checked in with Community Food and Outreach Center to begin their work.
"We unfolded donated items, hung them on hangers and put them in the appropriate section according to gender and age," she said. "Then we went to the grocery store to help restock shelves."
That activity provided Sarah, a sociology major, with a chance to put her studies to good use.
"As a sociologist, doing qualitative research is a big part of studying and reading people to learn where they are in their lives," she said. "That store opened a new avenue of people’s lives that are affected by changes in society. I was honored to hear their stories."
She also noted that the customers were not what she had expected.
"They serve mostly the working poor, people who have low-paying jobs and are trying to do the best they can for their families. Very few of them are homeless."
For Rob Dicks, Director of Athletic Training and Compliance, this was his first ASB trip, but it won't be his last.
"It was a great time of service, and I was able to see a different side of each student," he said. "They were so gracious and hardworking."
Dicks also was impressed with how the students interacted with the people they were helping.
"It was a great feeling to see the students work so hard and help people of the community," he said. "They made these people feel a sense of dignity in their time of need."
For the rest of the week, the group worked with Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and other life-saving aid around the world.
Senior Stephanie Rojas of Costa Rica was on her second ASB with Tolbert, and she said it brought her closer to God as she worked to help others.
"It surprised me to know that the real face of hunger is not Africa, as most people expect it to be, it is Asia," she said. "I felt blessed by helping Stop Hunger Now, helping to clean and organize bins, bags and equipment for the event they were hosting, because I was helping to feed kids around the world."
The group worked at the warehouse to help SHN prepare for a packaging event.
"It was interesting to see what it takes to prepare, set up and travel to an event," Sarah said. "From an outsider’s perspective, you never realize how much work it takes to put something together because you only see the finished product."
The first day, they counted bags, washed bins and took stock of everything in the warehouse. Dicks and Blake Shuler also were able to demonstrate their carpentry skills.
"We made a huge shelving unit about 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide to allow storage for the many bins that were needed," Dicks said.
On Thursday, they helped organize and gather supplies before heading out to the packing event Friday morning where 25,000 meals were to be prepared for shipping.
Sarah was particularly moved by an encounter they had with the woman who had planned the event. The woman told the group that she was volunteering on her birthday in loving memory of her husband who had passed away a few months earlier. He had loved working with nonprofits such as Stop Hunger Now, and that being there was heaven's way of blessing her.
"Seeing her expression of relief, joy, happiness and an overflow of emotion made us all realize that it’s not about what we do, but what God does through us," Sarah said. "That was something Blair really stressed to us."
The students also were trained to be student ambassadors for Stop Hunger Now.
"They are equipped now to engage and discuss with their peers about how to end world hunger in their lifetimes," Tolbert said. "They are the very first students to get that training."