“I’ve just been blown away by how different my idea of what homelessness looks like now is than I had thought.”
That’s the observation of sophomore Mackenzie Maurer regarding her stint as a weekly volunteer at the local St. Vincent de Paul Village soup kitchen.
Junior Taylor Gailing was also moved by what she saw while volunteering with the downtown San Diego Rescue Mission. “We were walking around, trying to tell people that they could come get a free meal. Some were willing, some didn’t take to us well at all and some were physically unable to get up,” she said.
Last week, Gailing and Maurer (pictured, left to right) led a campus-wide effort to promote Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. They posted signs on campus with quotes and statistical information about these issues. Additionally, “The Soloist,” a movie about a journalist who befriends a homeless Julliard-trained musician, was shown in the Plaza Mayor. But the most impact was felt when students got out of their comfort zone and came face-to-face with homeless and hungry people.
“We planned trips for students to tour the rescue mission and shelters,” Gailing said. “We took them to a shelter located in an old hospital building. It was sterile, security was very high and it wasn’t a warm place, but it serves as a community.”
Maurer is a regular on USD’s Thursday lunchtime trips to St. Vincent de Paul Village, where she and other students perform tasks that range from wiping down tables to serving food. “Some people are there in business suits. It makes you want to know what everyone’s story is,” she said.
Gailing’s firsthand knowledge was fortified last March on a University Ministry-sponsored “Alternative Spring Break” trip to West Virginia. The state is in the heart of the Appalachia region, one of the most impoverished areas in the U.S. There she lived on $2 a day and performed community service. “It was amazing to see so many poverty-stricken people there. It was eye-opening to see the problems are not only in San Diego, but all across the country.”
Maurer and Gailing participated in a outreach project last Saturday. They walked the streets downtown and invited homeless men and women for a free meal. “Every single street we walked down had at least one or two homeless people,” Maurer said. “I talked to one lady who lost her job and then lost her house. She’s been in a homeless shelter for six months. Your perspective changes when you see people who had it all six months ago and they’re now in a shelter.”
Both students said their experiences have left them with bittersweet feelings. Maurer and Gailing will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their respective families, but they won’t forget those who won’t have anyone to visit and might go hungry.
“It makes me much more aware of the blessings I have in my life,” Gailing said. “I’ll go home, see my family and know that I’m very lucky.”
— Ryan T. Blystone