December of 2017, right when my Winter Break began, rather than head home and relax I decided to sign up for an Alternative Break. Alternative Breaks are a program through Central Michigan University’s Volunteer Center where students take time during their breaks (such as spring, winter, or even weekend) to serve various communities all over the country, focusing on social issues that they are passionate about. One interesting thing about alternative breaks is that when students register, they are not told the location of the break, but rather which social issue they will be addressing. It is set up this way so that students serve on an alternative break that they are passionate about rather than looking for a vacation somewhere they would like to go. The Alternative Breaks program is an extremely popular one at Central, with spots filling up just minutes after the sign up portal opens.
As a result of the high demand some friends and I woke up early and eagerly waited for the sign-ups to open up. Originally, I was planning on choosing the Natural Disaster Alternative Break as Florida and Texas had both recently been hit hard by hurricanes. However, as I refreshed my page after sign-ups had opened up, Natural Disaster had already been filled up. As I realized and desperately searched for another AB to join I saw the perfect one: Access to Sports and Recreation. Sports and recreation have played a huge role in my life, as I was an athlete most of my life, so being able to help others have access to the same thing that I benefited so much from was something I jumped all over.
Leading up to the break we attended weekly meetings to discuss our jobs on the trip, role in our communities, and get to know the others going on the trip with us. At one of these meetings we found out our destination: Asheville, North Carolina to help out at a YMCA that we stayed out and serve the community. During our time in Asheville we had the opportunity to work directly (with students and the people we were serving) as well as indirectly.
The first full day we stayed in Asheville we worked on the grounds at the YMCA as they were not your normal community workout center, but rather focused on holding an after school program and a healthy eating food truck. One part of the after school program was a chicken coop that the YMCA maintained with the children. For the first day we participated in indirect service and fixed up the chicken coop which was overtaken by invasive species tangling the nets. Working to do this was a ton of fun as this was the group’s first experience working together. For the second day we worked on the woods behind the YMCA. The YMCA had a ton of land in woods that it could not use due to the invasive species that took it over. Our job was to remove the invasive species from the woods as well as possible and haul it to a truck to remove it.
After the first couple days of the unique “housekeeping” service we began to assist the workers at the YMCA with the healthy eating food truck. This food truck is run by the YMCA receiving left over produce from big grocery stores such as Walmart and Aldi due to these stores buying much more than they need. One fact that was shared with us while we were volunteering is that these grocery stores often buy 60% more produce than they need so that consumers can pick and choose the fruits and vegetables that they want. This results in an extreme excess of produce going to waste while still millions go hungry. The YMCA took this situation to address the problem of word hunger by creating this food truck to take this left over food to areas of need all over Asheville free of charge.
However, this is not without its costs. The few 3-4 employees working to maintain the food truck have to sort literally tons of food a week and distribute it all over Asheville. This is wehre we came in. We assisted in sorting the food and distributing it to needy families throughout the week. This was easily the most rewarding part of the Alternative Break. Seeing the families come through with elderly people as well as young children come through the line and grab food that we assisted in providing alone made the trip worth it.
On top of the service, we had the opportunity to explore Asheville and North Carolina on this trip as well. Some highlights included the entire group hiking a mountain and seeing a beautiful view of the city, visiting historic buildings, and taking a night out downtown. Although everything did not go perfectly throughout this break, it was a great experience and I am extremely thankful that I had the opportunity to meet all the great people in my group and help the community of Asheville.