This series, called “Reflections,” features guest posts by students involved at the Allbritton Center (see previous reflections by Alex Garcia ’17 and Natalie May ’18). They may be taking a service-learning class, engaged in community partnership work, DJ’ing at WESU, teaching at Green Street, pursuing the Civic Engagement Certificate, tutoring at the Center for Prison Education, working on a project/venture through the Patricelli Center, or some combination of the above and more. We believe that critical, real-time reflection enhances civic engagement work and promotes more robust learning. Want to contribute a reflection of your own? Contact Civic Engagement Fellow Rebecca Jacobsen ‘16.
Reflection #3 – Lydia Ottaviano ’17
Did you know that 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten? That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Yet, 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table. How has this gone on for so long?
I turn the key and unlock the door. I walk inside my house, items strewn about carelessly, a housemate’s single shoe on the stairs, a jacket draped over the plump couch cushion. I move freely into my own bedroom, cast my backpack aside, and then head for the kitchen. I open the cabinet… full, but nothing much of interest to me. I move on to the fridge, packed with leftovers from our lunchtime dining on campus. Perhaps I’ll have a glass of iced tea, or actually maybe a Capri Sun, and oh, yes, I think some carrots and hummus will do as well. My stomach growls in approval and when I am satisfied with my afternoon snack, I move on to complaining about all of the work I have still to do that evening, on top of the loads of emails to respond to. I think I might have to go to the library tonight… what a disappointment.
This is a routine that I and likely almost every college student can identify with. We attend institutions of higher education and learn to be comfortable in our own skin. But are we getting a little too comfortable, with the luxuries that are afforded us by living in houses we do not pay rent for, eating at dining halls and using magic cards to pay for our meals? I got too comfortable, and I couldn’t see those hurting beside me. I got too comfortable, and I forgot about my neighbors who were hungry.
This story begins in September 2013. It is my freshman year, the Community Engagement Fair. A warm end-of-summer breeze floats across Andrus as students search for ways in which to “get involved” and “be a part of the Middletown community!” The term “hunger and homelessness” means nothing to me as a phrase, but only as two words whose meanings I am familiar with. Yes, I am familiar with the terminology, but never the experiences that the words fully imply.
Fast forward to October 2014. I am a slightly-less-so-but-still-bright-eyed student finding that I cannot keep up involvement in 5 classes, 8 clubs, and 2 jobs. Yet I am finding this to be okay, because I am passionate, and I am eager. I am finding that there needs to be less “I” and more “us,” more “they.” I am learning what it means to help those who are homeless by feeding those who are hungry.
Fast forward to September 2015. I am a student, a friend, an athlete, a person of faith, a woman, a leader on campus. I am a coordinator, responsible for ensuring that 30+ individuals have something to eat that night, tomorrow night, every night. I am not the only one, but I am supposed to be the one, that one that knows the lingo, recruits the volunteers, knows the ins-and-outs and can navigate the deep-down-under that is the Usdan kitchen.
Present day. I understand the “hard” in hardship, the “work” in teamwork, the late nights, the extra shifts, the car mileage, the old volunteers, the new volunteers, the emails, the transitions, the explanations, the data, the repetitions, the repetitions, the repetitions.
Each night, 3 shifts of volunteers deliver uneaten food from 3 campus dining halls to the Eddy Shelter, a homeless shelter on the campus of the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, CT. At the shelter, residents are provided with a bed, shower, and case management, typically for periods of a few months. One thing that the Eddy Shelter is not able to provide their residents is food. Through Wesleyan Food Rescue, Wesleyan University is the sole supplier of food to the shelter, where anywhere from 30-50 residents are fed at a given time. The food that is donated is left over from the day’s meals and would otherwise be thrown out. Thus, we (Wesleyan) reduce our waste and redirect the food to those who need it. In just one semester, our 30 volunteers delivered over 300 trays of food from Usdan and Summerfields and 180 bags from Pi Café. That is approximately 750 pounds of food over the course of 12 weeks! Food waste occurs at all stages: production, processing, retailing, and consumption. While there are groups on campus to tackle other stages of the food waste chain, Food Rescue is driving positive change in how consumption waste is redirected on college campuses. The work that I do to coordinate the many moving parts of this process would not be possible without our community partner, the Bon Appetite management and staff, and of course, our dedicated volunteers.
Wesleyan Food Rescue is the most challenging and necessary organization that I have ever been so proud to be a part of. As just a meek freshman volunteer, I could have never known what stepping through the doors of that shelter would mean for me 3 years later. As a senior coordinator, I can only hope to be leaving an organization that is more prosperous than when I found it and in such capable hands as when it was entrusted in my own. Many, many meetings, flyers, internet posts, shift schedules, volunteers, drivers, cars, managers, trays, spillages, residents, smiles, and pounds of food later, I can only wonder where this wonderful journey will take me next. May I never get too comfortable, and be always attentive to the people who need listening to, for their lives are defined by stories untold, not by circumstances seen.
Wesleyan Food Rescue is an on-campus organization through the Office of Community Service. It began 6 years ago, with 13 shifts and 20 volunteers. Now, it has 21 shifts with over 30 volunteers. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or watch this short video made by Lili Kadets ’17 to learn more.