Friday, September 18, 2009

Food Stamps and Toilet Paper

SEPTEMBER 11: This year was the first September 11th National Service day. There were several projects where leaders set up a moment of silence in the community. Other projects were developed to write to soldiers, or collect materials for the homeless shelter. Overall, Campus Corps was pretty successful with their projects despite the crunch for time all of my leaders felt. I got to participate in two projects, 1 collecting toilet paper for the food bank in Missoula and the other collecting recycling in communities in Dillon. The toilet paper drive seemed to be more successful when people understood what they were donating for. Most people would just walk by our sign and explain that they didnt' need to buy any toilet paper. We spent most of the afternoon trying to explain to customers what we were doing, that we weren't selling toilet paper, and that the food bank was in need. Direct contact and explanation helped, and we collected 800 rolls. It was a small project but was good to be doing service out in the community, getting to interact with all sorts of people in the grocery store (including running into an alumni from my small private high school in Atlanta - small world) and getting to deliver the toilet paper to the food bank. The other project I participated in was picking up recycling in the community in Dillon Montana which is about 2.5 hours from Missoula. The volunteers filled the huge communal bins with recycling, and collected a large amount of food for the shelter. My truck of volunteers was discouraged by the lack of recycling we picked up, but I had a good conversation with them about why people in Dillon don't recycle. I definitely thought that Montana would be ahead of the game when it came to recycling, but most communities don't know that they have recycling if they do. Overall the project was a success and members (the college student volunteers) were talking about what they want to do in the future which was exciting for me to see.

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE: This week I had to go in for my food stamp meeting. In all honesty, I felt hypocritical walking into a food stamp office with my iphone after driving their in my forester. It reminded me of being at a homelessness panel back at Elon a few years ago where I began to challenge my understanding of "homelessness" and what it looks like. Being in the food stamp office was similar because it reminded me that a lot of people on food stamps just need the extra money for food because of all of their other responsibilities. Even though I do have these nice items, I still need this extra money to be able to afford rent, utilities, and those extra monthly purchases that add up. I laughed when the woman told me the maximum income I can have, mostly because my income was $400 less, this threw her off a bit. She didn't quite understand that this was the first time I realized exactly what kind of financial situation I am currently in, because my lifestyle has not really changed that much (if anything i've learned what I dont need). I also learned that having a savings is discouraged for people applying for food stamps. Does this then keep people in welfare for longer periods of time? Is this making people have to choose between food or other expenses and education? These are all things I had never considered before experiencing it. Overall, it was a humbling experience.

A WEEK IN MY OFFICE: My job this week has helped me stay motivated and focus my energy on a few different things. It's difficult when doing constant indirect service, especially in my leader position, to feel like the work I'm doing is important and/or necessary. I have been on the phone checking in with leaders all over the state so it has been a bit more direct work than the last three weeks. I've also been busy planning the training we have for members next weekend which has allowed me to do some extra research on exciting topics like reflection. The most challenging part of my job thus far has really been trying to figure out how to enhance service learning programs in Montana. Elon was so ahead of the game with service, that it's hard to even know where to start. I see the potential in a lot of the universities and colleges but i'm working from the ground up. I never realized exactly how established Elon Volunteers' is. There is no room for student leadership at any university in Montana, staff and Americorps members run everything. It's also a challenge because i'm hours away from all but 1 of the universities, and I'm careful not to step on toes. The challenge is exciting though, and I couldn't have any better experience with an established office so I know where these offices can be in the future.

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