Today was our first day volunteering at Food and Friends. We were all a little anxious and ready to begin our work at Food and Friends. When we arrived Jane, the volunteer coordinator, greeted us. We received our official Food and Friends Orientation and even got to meet students from other schools like Ithaca College and Boston University. For our first day of volunteering we were responsible for expediting the meals that would be delivered on tomorrow’s run. We had to learn how to read the packing labels, which contained vital information about the client. In addition before we began we were introduced to the various diets that Food and Friends catered; from low fat to diabetic it was all there. We worked for about three hours and bagged over 500 meals! After we were done we were treated to Oreo cheesecake, made by the head chef; this was delicious cheesecake and a great way to end our shift.

After our time at Food and friends we ate our lunches and headed out to the monuments. We saw the Washington monument and took a lot of great pictures. The fun wasn’t over yet, we made our way the Lincoln memorial. After paying a visit to Lincoln we headed to the Korean War memorial.

Our final destination for the day was Georgetown, where we had a cupcake from the famous Georgetown Cupcakes. After our busy day of site seeing we sat down to a delicious dinner at Paradiso Pizza, a Georgetown favorite. Finally we got our own personal tour of Georgetown University from one of Brittany’s friends who attend the university. It was so interesting to see how different the university was from USF.  I know that I am worn out from our adventures today and I am quite excited to see what else the trip has to offer.

-Devon

“I grabbed a tree and started walking down the path. I noticed the variety of the trees; the different shapes of the leaves and shades of green. Colleen had said that the area we were in had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina and much of the vegetation and wetland had been lost. Looking around at the lush canopy, it certainly didn’t look like it had been. I was amazed at how fast these trees and shrubs had grown again to re-establish themselves. It reminded me of the enthusiasm of the residents and volunteers we met on Monday at the Lower 9th ward; they worked hard to re-establish their neighborhood and took pride in their New Orleans roots. I wanted to be a part of that. I had come to appreciate the passion of the volunteers of Common Ground and their dedication to their purpose.” -Mikaela

“Today was the ‘mystery day’ in the week’s agenda.  True to the spirit of the week, it turned out to be something new that was an extension of everything we had learned and experienced to that point.  We met the Common Grounds Relief – Wetlands Restoration staff early in the morning at their parking-lot nursery where we loaded the truck bed and trailer with as many pots of young cypress, elm, oak and boxelder as we could fit.   We then formed a long caravan of trucks, SUVs and vans that wound through New Orleans and to the ferry that would take us across the Mississippi River to Belle Chasse, and our destination of Woodlands Trail.  Our project today was to plant everything we had brought from the nursery as part of an ongoing mission to restore one of Southern Louisiana’s last remaining coastal forests.

Before we got started, Colleen explained how to plant the trees to give them the best chance at survival, respecting the difference between stem and the root tissue and how the soil must be even to allow proper water filtration.  She gave us plant identification lessons, as we learned how important it is to support the replenishing of species native to the region.  As we became better at recognizing the stem and leaf patterns of the cypress, elm, maple, different types of oak, and boxelder it was exciting to be able to identify these trees in several stages of growth throughout the forest.  We were reminded that only about half of what we plant will survive.   Therefore, Common Ground’s strategy is simple:  get as many trees in the ground as possible during planting season.   We are nearing the end of planting season now, when the trees’ roots are programmed to grow (as opposed to their leaves), so there was some urgency to the project.  Today was physically grueling, as we had to hike while carrying our heavy (and often large) plants  through at least a mile of trail to find the planting site, then plant them, then return to the truck and do it all over again.  After only three trips, we had planted over 50 trees and were exhausted.  This is when it becomes clear that Common Ground’s practice of rotating in large groups of fresh, eager volunteers each week is critical – and effective.   I would definitely encourage more groups  from  USF to participate in this project – and from all over Florida.   While learning to appreciate the uniqueness of Louisiana’s wetlands, I constantly had Florida on my mind this week.  The wetlands are an endangered and long misunderstood legacy in Florida too.” – Juliet

“The trip to the site that we went to was actually an experience in itself. We took a short ferry across a small body of water! It was like a moving bridge… but not really. Once we got to the trail that we were working at, we got a run down of all of the trees that we were going to plant in the area. My favorite part of the day was learning about all of the various species from Colleen. She explained which ones are native to the area, such as cypress. What struck me was to see the tiny cypress tree that we were planting into the ground as well as the full grown tree that it would turn into! Colleen also talked about invasive species of trees that were starting to overpopulate the area, such as the Chinese tallow. We ended up hacking at those trees with our shovels to get rid of them after we were done planting! I really appreciated what Common Ground Relief was doing to preserve the and restore the wetlands. Their dedication and enthusiasm for their work is truly inspiring.” – Jessica

Today marked the last day of service at Food and Friends. It was sad
because we have enjoyed the whole week volunteering with them.  They
have been extremely appreciative every day we have been there.  Seven
of us assisted Les with expediting the meals to go. We had to make the
bags by putting entrees and other items in the bag. Others helped with
administrative duties downstairs that consisted of labeling certain
kinds of mail.  With different groups from all over the United States
coming to Food and Friends, many of the tasks that we did got done
quicker than expected.  We worked with students from Ithaca College,
Boston University, and University of Indiana. It was cute how Charles
asked us if we need a break when we were working a three hour shift.
After volunteering, we split different ways to get something to eat.
We went back to the hotel and rested a bit and then got ready for a
group dinner at Chinatown.  The night scene in Washington D.C. is
amazing. We did some shopping at H & M and Forever 21 by the Metro
Center.   We had our last night group dinner at Mengs.  The place was
gorgeous and comfy. After dinner, we went to the Red Velvet Room where
they feature some of the best cupcakes in D.C.  Then the next stop was
Frozen Yo, which is amazing frozen yogurt with all sorts of toppings
one can choose from fresh fruits to chocolate chips.    What a great way
to end a week of being in Washington D.C!!

- Ruth

It felt like just yesterday that we learned what this organization was all about, but by Friday, our last day, we felt that we had developed a connection with the staff at Food and Friends.  Whether we were stuffing envelopes or sealing frozen meals, each member of our group felt appreciated.  Through our work this week is was apparent that Food and Friends developed significantly over its 22 years and knowing how to support its volunteers was a large part of that development.  Achieving a balance between accomplishing the organization’s mission and supporting volunteers is very difficult, but Food and Friends did this flawlessly.  The staff’s appreciation for volunteers and system for organizing volunteer tasks ensured that we would have a great experience as well as share in their mission to provide the best service for their clients.

I am proud of our group for working hard and being open to new experiences this week.  We took in quite a bit in six days, but each of us learned something new about ourselves, our nation’s capitol, and providing meals for those in need.  While some can’t wait to get back to their cars, others can’t wait to move to a large city.  All of us have certainly experienced enough cupcakes and frozen yogurt to last us awhile (or at least a couple days).  I am sure that our group will always remember this trip.  Thank you Ruth and Caitlyn for being awesome site leaders.  Brittany, Collette, Devon, Jalyssa, Mitzy, and Sandra, thank you for devoting your spring break to service and for all the memories!

~Angela, Graduate Advisor

Yummy in My Tummy

Wake up in the morning feeling like Obama

Got my metro card I’m out the door about to volunteer in the city.

Hit up 7Eleven grab a coffee to go

Hop on the train to get the show on the road

Arrive at Food and Friends where we can’t wait to see,

the groceries we will bag and the people we will feed.

From soft and diabetic, low fat to pureed

there was sure to be a different meal everyday.

After our service was done, to Arlington we will go,

to reflect on all of the soldiers whose bravery they did show.

We were blessed enough to see

the last living World War 1 veteran ceremony

and even John Kerry!

When dinner time arose, we wanted food with soul

So we went to Ben’s Chili Bowl.

After our hearty meal our beds we wanted to feel

The day was coming to an end and

we couldn’t wait to begin again!

~Brittany & Mitzy

Three words: My feet hurt! I know I am not the only one from my group who can vouch me on that one. We have seen so much in the past few days and we have done A LOT of walking. However, the calories we burn walking around all day are quickly consumed by the DELICIOUS food in D.C. Our group has been really blessed these past few days because we are getting to meet great people and see a lot of awesome things… all for FREE! Today was our third day at Food and Friends and we love it. Everyone there is so nice and caring. They really do appreciate their volunteers and do not hesitate to remind us everyday. I have never volunteered in an organization with such genuinely happy people. You can just tell they truly love what they do. I am so glad we had the opportunity to volunteer with Food and Friends because it has helped me realize non-profits are what I want to do as a career. I hope to come back to Tampa and find an organization I can be consistent with and really make a difference. Food and Friends helped me realize how much volunteers really do contribute to making everything running smoothly.

After volunteering today we went to Arlington Cemetery. We were planning on just walking around and seeing the changing of the guard but little did we know that we were going to be able to witness and partake in a monumental part of history. The last World War 1 veteran had past away and they had an open viewing with a closed casket to pay the respects to a veteran who fought for our freedom. He was 110 years old! I am honored for our group to have been able to partake in that moment in history. While in line waiting to pay our respects, in front of us was John Kerry! And afterwords we saw Obama’s motorcade. Needless to say, Yummy in My Tummy were feeling extremely blessed and excited to be in D.C. for all of this.

Can’t wait to see what is in store for us tomorrow! :)

~Mitzy

Today we planted cypress and oak trees in Norco’s Wetland Watchers Park. This park was created as an outdoor learning center for grade school students. The vegetation in the park was destroyed by salt water intrusion during/after Hurricane Katrina. Therefore, we planted new trees to restore the wetlands.

We arrived to Norco’s Wetland Watchers around 10 in the morning, and started planting trees. We used an interesting tool known as the dibble. Which is in short an orange spear that you stick into the ground and pull out to make a hole to plant a tree. The oak trees required dry soil, which was kind of a challenge because we were in a moderately swampy area near Lake Pontchartrain. However, walking throughout the site allowed our group to find many areas that had dry soil.

Some members of our group were asked to clear out an area filled with Roseau cane. The Roseau cane needed to be removed for two reasons. One was that since they were so tall, they would have overshadowed the smaller trees we were planting. Also, we were going to take this Roseau cane and plant them on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Clearing the Roseau cane took about an hour, only because whenever our amazing volunteers cleared out a specific plot of land, more cane just magically sprouted through the ground. After losing half of our body fluids, the whole group decided to take a lunch break.

After lunch break, we began planting baby cypress trees. Cypress trees need to be planted in very moist soil. Meaning it was not very hard looking for places to plant Cypress trees in the swamp. During this project we got to use hip-high boots while walking through thick mud to plant trees. After planting all of the cypress trees, we went on to plant the Roseau cane on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. This was also another project where we got to use boots.

“This entire trip as been such an eye-opening experience! Today was the culmination of a week-long wetlands restoration project. Today we got muddy. We worked with our hands. We waded through mud and tangled brush to plant trees. I will never look at trees the same way again! What really struck me was being able to see the different generations of trees. I passed by one tree that was planted on May 2, 2007 (I know that because it was tagged). I was happy to see it so strong and healthy. I couldn’t help but think of what the volunteers who planted that tree would say if they saw it today as I saw it. It is a good feeling to know that what we are doing will still be visible for years to come. Toward the end of the day, I asked one of our organization leaders about the age of one of the taller cypress tress. She said the one I was pointing to was about 40 years old. It made me smile to think that may be the tree that I just planted one day.” – Mrs. Cutchens

“Today was personally my favorite volunteering day because Norco’s Wetland Watchers Park embodied all that I imagined about New Orleans- muddy swampland. All of us had been looking forward to, and probably imagining, how this day would happen even before we left from Tampa. As we were driving this morning the fog was really heavy. It was hard to see a truck 15 feet in front of you. I thought this was the most mystic part of our New Orleans vacation but that’s probably just my opinion. As we drove up to what we thought was our site, Crystal said the oddest thing. She said this is where Keebler Elves lived and produced their world famous cookies. Of course we all laughed at her comment but I could imagine these woodlands housing mystical things, including chocolate cookie constructing elves.” – Sidney Perles

“I am very surprised about how many people devote their lives or part of their lives to environmental work. I mean, sure on paper the number of environmental volunteers are huge, but you really don’t understand the power of that number until you go out and start planting. Our group of 16 volunteers nursed hundreds and planted over a thousand trees in these past five days. Along with just doing the work, 16 USF Bulls have learned why keeping our environment clean and healthy is important, because it is definitely much harder to restore your environment than maintaining it.” – Gopal Amin

“It was a cold war out there, as if the wilderness was testing our mettle to see if we could stand her tests. She had been hurt before, and she was determined to come back stronger than ever, and unless we could match her passion, she wasn’t going to let us help. The mud pulled us deep into the swamp like a giant mouth sucking us down. The branches of dead trees stabbed and whacked us wildly, quickly earning them the nickname “zombie trees”. Even the animals of the wild stopped us, from the guerrilla attacks of rabbits on our new saplings to the hordes of fire ants and snakes waiting on the arming the branches of our zombie foes, but we were determined to fight on, and we planted hundreds of young cypress and oak trees across the wetlands, each one with a story of adventure and bravery describing how it came to grow in its sunny clearing.” – Amit Patel

Sorry I haven’t updated my blog in a few days. Our days at Tara Hall are really long. We pretty much spend all day with the kids, and when we get back after a long day all most of want to do is crash!

One of the highlights of our day was at the end of the day. We gathered all of the kids around in their cottage and gave them packages filled with USF stuff…including shirts, fans, pens, everything! You should have seen the looks on their faces…they were so excited to be getting all this stuff. A few of the kids were even jumping about how cool USF is and how they want to go there one day…it was pretty amazing.

- Janmarie

Today was the second to last day in D.C. as well as volunteering at Food and Friends. It is hard to take in the fact that this whole experience is coming to an end. Meeting new people, being able to help people with life threatening illnesses as well as enjoying the free time to tour D.C. for the first time.
At Food and Friends, our group was able to work in the kitchen. We portioned food and made entrees for their clients. We were able to meet the Executove Chef, Oscar and the Head Pastry Chef, Tim. It was really amazing to hear thier stories about how they have bcome a big part of the Food and Freinds family and what this non-profit means to them. Oscar expessed to us how he wanted everything to be as perfect as possible because we  want them to keep thier dignity and we truley do not know if the meal we are preparing for them will be their last. When he said that, it made me realize how important everything is, even if it is something as little as making sure the soup bowls look nice.
We did find time to visit the Botanical Gardens as well as the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately I have never been to the Botanical Gardens at USF, but going to the one in D.C. makes me want to visit ours. For the museum, my main goal was to see the Hope Diamond. Although the room was croweded, I was able to get all the way to the glass to be able to snap a shot of this priceless piece of jewelry that is a symbol of hope.
So every night we try to go to a new restaurant to try new foods. Tonight we actually found an Ethiopian Restuarant called EteEte. At this type of setting, your hands are your utensils. We all ordered all different things, and decided to be a loving group and share and taste each others food. It was very delicious and now I will be on the look out for one like it in Tampa.
I am so excited and grateful that I was chosen to go on this trip. I have met so many great people and I am happy that I was able to make a difference during our Spring Break. I hope I will be able to do another trip next year and continue to be exposed to the same experience and friendli-like people that I did in Washington, D.C. :)
- Jalyssa

Every morning, we get up at 6 am, everyone shuffles through their morning routine and we leave our hotel by 7:45, on to the metro and every morning, we always arrive early to our site at 9 am.

Food & Friends is a well-oiled and finely crafted machine. It runs so smoothly, our inclusion on its track is almost effortless. We do different tasks most days and each we try to do with as much care as possible. The passion is almost palpable. Nearly, if not every, individual in this organization has the utmost respect and gratitude for their volunteers. I have been doing community service for years and I have never felt so welcome and so wanted before. When noon finally comes around, we all find ourselves wishing we could just stay a little bit longer.

Our first two days we did “expediting” or packing of meals into convenient bags for delivery. Today, we handled grocery-to-go which entails packing grocery bags of food specific to their clients. Food & Friends feeds people in the DC area as well as other counties in Maryland and Virginia that are within a reasonable distance. Approximately 74% of those clients fall below the poverty line and some will give their meals to their children so Food & Friends offers groceries that extends up to 4 dependents. Furthermore, they also offer 11 different diets to accommodate whatever is needed of them.

Today we handled exactly that, George explained everything perfectly and we got done early. One (more) thing I can say about them is just how much detail they give us when they explain the tasks we are given, it is obvious that they deal with volunteers often in fact a majority of their workforce is through volunteerism and several other groups were and will continue to work there with us. So you definitely get a sense that they know what they’re doing and that’s comforting.

After that we had the day to ourselves as usual and we spent it by first going to the Holocaust Museum, then a little bit of shopping though only by half of the group and ended the day (and night) with an amazing dinner at Busboys and Poets where we got not only delicious and affordable (by DC standards anyway) food but also the opportunity to watch Open-Mic night. The poets, singers, and rappers were all talented and a joy to watch in their own right and I am once again grateful to be in this city and with this great group of people.

- Sandra

Sunday March 13, 2011

Today was our first day in Washington DC! I think the 20 hour bus ride yesterday drained everyone a little bit, but we had a full night’s rest and ended up having lots of energy for today. We got to sleep and took our time in the morning figuring out the metro system. Eventually we made our way over to the National Zoo.

We got to see beautiful lions and tigers and elephants, etc but only one panda was out. And let me tell you, those pandas are not nearly as white as they look in photographs. Regardless, they are still adorable. After the zoo we walked a ways and had dinner at a small café. Dinner was a little quiet at first but we decided to go around the table and share with everyone our favorite color and a strange smell that we like. This definitely broke the ice and allowed us to ease into conversation. After dinner we walked toward Dupont Circle and got ice cream at Larry’s, a small, family owned joint with the best ice cream I have ever tasted. I was so surprised how easily how group meshed with one another. We only have nine people in our group so we luckily don’t need to split up when we eat, etc. It has only been one day and we already feel like a family. I can’t wait to see how the dynamic of our group continues through the week after we have continued our volunteer work. I think our bond will only grow stronger and I am so excited to be a part of something so special!

- Caitlyn