Happy Outlining! (Since I missed Thanksgiving and it’s too early for Christmas)
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, the UST Public Service Board has instituted a new fun thing this year where we’re doing (gasp) more actual public service! Our tradition up to this point has been to host two large events (called, creatively, Public Service Day) per year, one each semester. These are designed to both give St. Thomas students the opportunity to easily earn some service hours and, more importantly, to engage the UST community with the surrounding community to build solidarity and charity and personal relationships and all those wonderful things you may have heard about in church and/or Foundations of Justice. These events are great.
However, they don’t happen very often, and it turns out that UST students actually like helping other people—and they’ve been clamoring for more!
SO, this year, and hopefully in years to come, the Public Service Board has begun planning smaller group service events that don’t yet have a catchy title. They will occur monthly, and so far they’ve been pretty successful.
In October, a group of students traveled to Natura Farms up north to help prune black currant bushes. Natura Farms is founded and run by Paul M. Otten, a Brazilian native who has spent his life watching the quality of food production in the US decline and health care costs skyrocket, and sees a direct correlation. He claims that the food we consume on a regular basis are “concoction[s] of chemicals” and “food look-alikes” that are attractively packaged and deceptively but legally marketed as food. He summarizes his philosophy on the issue as, “When we consume fake foods we earn fake health. Only real food can provide the raw materials our bodies need to maintain health, energize themselves, reproduce properly, and heal themselves automatically. Health comes from the farm, not the pharmacy. Therefore, the more frequently you go through the golden arches, the sooner you get to the pearly gates!” His solution is Natura Farms, which offers fresh, healthy food grown using not unnatural chemicals but farming methods that focus on maintaining healthy, nutrient-rich soil, which then produces healthy, nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. The farm produces and sells everything from apples, berries, cantaloupe and a variety of household herbs to broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, kale, Brussels sprouts and zucchini (that list being nowhere near all-inclusive), and is certified by Food Alliance Midwest.
The great part about this project is that in addition to being a really fun project (unique, outdoors, fresh air, included lunch and an opportunity to pet the goats) it was also very educational: Paul obviously loves his farm and his work; he gave us a brief tour and history of his farm, along with a presentation on the purpose of his methods and the farming techniques he uses. I learned more than I will probably ever need to know about black currants and their care, and also went home with some really fresh broccoli. REALLY fresh. I cut it in the field myself. It was delicious. And super nutritious, if Paul had anything to do with it.
For our November project, just before Thanksgiving, a small group of us joined Second Harvest Heartland in their hunger relief efforts. By the way, if you’re looking for some hours on your own, Second Harvest is a good place to start. They organize days for large groups (up to 50 people or so) to come in and help; you can sign up as a group, pair, threesome or all by your lonely on their website, then all you have to do is show up. Wear comfortable shoes, too.
Our group spent 3 hours at varying tasks, assembly-line style, separating a massive, one ton sack of rice into separate 1-lb. bags, weighed and measured it, then sealed, labeled and packaged the bags for distribution. This means, by the end of our brief workday, we’d separated, measured, weighed, sealed, labeled and packaged 2,047 pounds of rice into 2,047 bags to be distributed to, well, I don’t know if they send a bag per family or per person or what. But it was a lot of rice.
On the one hand, three hours spent alternately running bags of rice from one end of the room to the other and pressing a hot seal onto the tops of countless plastic baggies reminded me why I have never attempted to secure a career as a factory worker. However, as far as hard work goes, it wasn’t that bad. We had ample opportunity to talk and joke with out fellow volunteers, and the results (more food for hungry children and families in the area) are very, very rewarding and very, very necessary. Again, I urge anyone looking for hours (or anyone who just likes to help!) to check out Second Harvest’s website. Or you could call them, I guess. If you’re old-fashioned like that. Their phone number is on the website.
Finally, Spring Public Service Day 2012 will be with Habitat for Humanity (as usual) and is tentatively scheduled for the second or third week of February, so keep that in mind!