Alternative Spring Break is Food for Thought

Rollins students discover links between abstract stats and real issues surrounding food while serving in Tampa.

Food is fuel for the body, a delicacy for the connoisseur, and a way of bonding for family and friends.

But access to life-sustaining nourishment is entwined in many broader political, economic, and environmental issues.

Those connections came into focus for about a dozen Rollins students, who spent last week in Tampa, working in a mobile food pantry, community produce garden, and crisis food warehouse. Alternative Spring Break trips, organized through the Rollins Office of Community Engagement, allows participants to serve others and learn about an issue first hand.

“These immersion experiences changed my life fundamentally in the way I think about my education,” says Courtney Banker ’16, who is majoring in environmental studies. “This shows us what is happening in the real world much more than seeing statistics in a PowerPoint presentation in the classroom.”

Along with Raul Carril '14, Banker serves as a student coordinator who helps organize the service-learning experiences. She said the Alternative Spring Break in Tampa sparked many ideas and debates on food issues from “production to distribution to access.”

The Tampa group was one of five Alternative Spring Breaks this year. Nearly 70 participants took part, as students also served in projects in Nashville, Memphis, New York City, and Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. Those experiences centered around a variety issues, including dropout rates, youth violence, and music and animal therapies for those who are ill.

Begun in 2008, the Rollins Immersion Program: Citizens Take Action offers about 20 experiences of varying lengths throughout the year. (Those interested in applying should visit: www.rollins.edu/communityengagement/students/immersion-programs.html.)

“The Immersion program lets students connect the dots between what they study in the classroom and how that can be applied when they leave college,” says Meredith Hein, associate director of community engagement. “It gets students to that next level of asking big questions.”

Banker, who is from Tampa, said that food has always been her passion. Indeed, she once considered going to culinary school, so she was delighted that the group prepared dinner in her parents’ home nearly every night. To stimulate discussion, they often planned those suppers around certain themes or challenges such as creating a meal when you only have a $1 to spend.

“Those meals made us so much closer,” Banker says. “We all cooked, talked, and ate together. The times when I love Rollins the most is when I’m on an Immersion.”

For Paige Giese ’17, the Tampa experience was both eye opening and thought provoking.

From Feeding America Everywhere’s mobile pantry to Sweetwater Organic Farm to the Edible Peace Patch Project and even to the operations of Waste Management, the experiences inspired and informed her.

“It all stuck with me,” Giese said in a reflection she wrote. “But what stuck the most overwhelmingly were those few hours under the pop-up tents of the mobile pantry. This was the day when I questioned what it meant to be hungry, to be a member of a community. Food is more than just what we eat. It dictates our lives, education, government, and relationships with others.

Witnessing an altercation between two men who were in need of a meal made her wonder how much she understood about the world. And it left her with a lingering, nagging question:

“Are they still hungry?”