Sophomore Noah French sat outside a run-down apartment complex in Detroit waiting to deliver food to one of its residents — a senior citizen, homebound due to a physical disability that limited his access to food, healthy living conditions and other basic needs.
When French was invited into the apartment, he realized how close to home the issues of poverty and homelessness hit.
“What I saw almost brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “In the center of a room filled with debris and molding food was a large man in a torn T-shirt sitting in a wheelchair with one leg … No one had visited him in three weeks. It broke my heart because I realized that there are people like this even in Grand Rapids.”
French was one of the seven students who joined the Alternative Spring Break program in Detroit to work with Focus: HOPE, a nonprofit organization committed to addressing hunger, poverty, inadequate education and racial divisiveness.
“We did various activities throughout the week such as spending the morning helping out at the Focus: HOPE Center for Children head-start school in the classrooms, boxing food for distribution, delivering food to the elderly who are homebound and helping the lower income elderly shop in the mock grocery store that Focus: HOPE provides” said sophomore Mikayla Mallery.
Over the Feb. 9 Spring Break weekend, ASB students gave back to the community in many different ways. But, when asked how their efforts had impacted the community, they spoke with a special sense of accomplishment about their work to alleviate hunger.
“I feel that our group made a significant impact not only in the lives of the children we were able to work with, but also in the lives of the food box recipients,” said sophomore and ASB Site Leader Shaye Rogers.
Focus: HOPE’s food assistance program for senior citizens is based on income, Rogers said. Volunteers put together monthly food packages to help recipients meet their basic needs.
“As a group, we were able to complete 1,430 boxes,” Rogers said. “With only seven people, it doesn’t seem like we can do a whole lot, but on the first day we completed 550 boxes just on our own. That’s such a huge impact.”
ASB students worked hard and returned home with the powerful gift of a renewed perspective.
“All the work that was done over the week made me feel very privileged,” said sophomore Reagan Rackes. “I have never thought ‘where is my next meal coming from? Will I have enough food for the rest of the week?’ … This trip made me step back and rethink my life.”
Sophomore Zach Hammel-Brown agreed: “I learned how to appreciate the things in life that I have … to love the people I have in my life as well. A lot of these kids and elderly people didn’t have family who wanted to come see them.”
In addition to a renewed sense of gratitude, students reflected on the power each person has to change the world around them.
“Volunteer work is always appreciated and it always makes a difference — whether it is one person or 100,” Rogers said. “You can always make a difference.”