Students go the extra mile to give back
Winter break offers a chance for college students to relax after a hectic semester of classes.
Twelve students from the University of South Dakota had different plans. In January, they traveled eight hours to serve one week in the Springfield community — volunteering at Ozarks Food Harvest and other nonprofits.
Each student volunteered nine hours in one day at The Food Bank. They sorted 17,874 pounds of food and assembled 1,110 food bags for the Weekend Backpack Program — providing 21,555 meals for those in need.
“I like that you can see the physical impact of the work,” Nathaniel Steinlich, 21, shared about his experience volunteering. “You can see the food being sorted and it makes you want to do more and sort faster so you can help more people.”
Hardworking students like Steinlich are selected through an application process and then pay to participate in the Alternative Week of Off-Campus Learning program during winter, spring and summer breaks.
AWOL is a student-led organization that sends groups on service trips around the country and the globe to learn about the social issues each community faces.
“We chose social issues such as development, poverty, domestic abuse, youth homelessness and food insecurity,” site leader Kirsty Longley, 21, said about the Springfield trip. “We knew The Food Bank would help meet our goal.”
Longley explained that the Ozarks is similar to South Dakota because it struggles with a lot of the same social issues.
Students toured Ozarks Food Harvest to learn about donations, distribution and hunger in southwest Missouri.
The group also spent time volunteering at Habitat for Humanity ReStore and construction site, Harmony House, Rare Breed Youth Services and Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church to learn about the other challenges facing Springfield.
“It’s one thing to hear about all the issues, like hunger, but I actually wanted to experience the issues and help make a change,” Sierra McConnell, 18, shared why she attended the AWOL trip. “It’s great to be a part of helping.”
The goal of AWOL is to encourage students to apply what they learn through the service learning experiences to the rest of their lives, and also back home in Vermillion, South Dakota.
“It’s nice to be able to make a difference in a community that really needs it,” McConnell said. “I’m excited to take what I’ve learned and make an impact at home too.”
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