Halloween was right around the corner, but the members of the Office of Volunteer Program’s Weekend Service Trip to St. Louis were in costume for a cause. Dressed as a carrot and a tomato, students helped advertise the local Farmers’ Market in Old North St. Louis. From Friday, October 9 to Sunday, October 11, Illinois sophomores Sue Xu and Grace Crowcroft helped lead ten students in providing service to the St. Louis community.
In preparation to attend OVP’s Weekend Service Trip to St. Louis, students attended two classes led by Professor Michael Andrejasich of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, where he shared his expertise of the East St. Louis community. Classes covering necessary topics about the Weekend Service Trip are a new component of the program. Students were able to see firsthand what they learned about the demographics and social issues of the community during their weekend trip, and Professor Andrejasich even joined them for service.
The weekend included many educational opportunities. Upon arriving, students visited the Village Theatre. The owner, Christina, wanted to give the volunteers the opportunity to learn videography. The Village Theatre also gives young people a space to hang out, learn, and most importantly, “a platform for youth to showcase their talent.”
On Saturday morning, students volunteered at the ONSLRG Farmers’ Market. Sue, one of the two group leaders for the trip, explained that the market exists in the Old North neighborhood because the area “is not really developed. People want to help establish nutrition since people there do not have an idea of what nutrition is.” The Farmers’ Market makes their produce accessible and affordable to locals by accepting the Missouri Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), a method for families who participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Missouri to receive and use Food Stamp benefits. They rely on volunteers to help sell their products.
Following the Farmers’ Market, students took a tour of YouthBuild at Emerson Park Development Corporation (EPDC). The program gives low-income youth opportunities to acquire their GED while learning construction skills to help build affordable housing within the community. Then Illinois students took a guided tour of the community where they were able to catch a glimpse of some challenges faced by the locals. For instance, Sue shared that there was only one drug store in the area for locals to obtain their necessities, and many young people were on the streets.
Like other service trips, the weekend gave students a chance to learn about both the culture and unique struggles of the community. From the Farmers’ Market to YouthBuild at Emerson Park, students gained insight into the diversity of St. Louis residents, as well as the hardships that various groups face. Along with completing service work, students gain invaluable first-hand knowledge of the background and lifestyle of these community members. This opportunity to develop an understanding and appreciation for the community proved to be a very meaningful experience that students will likely reflect upon for years to come.