Throughout the year, I volunteered with several of GrowNYC’s initiatives. I have been a regular employee at a farmers market stand, working Saturdays in Grand Army Plaza and short hours Wednesdays in Union Square. This job gave me the opportunity to learn about GrowNYC and volunteer with several programs that partner with greenmarkets, namely Wearable Collections and City Harvest. During the fall season at the market, I participated in “Greenmarket Rescue” by helping my own stand as well as others collect leftovers from the day and load the food onto a City Harvest truck. This food was in turn distributed to mobile markets throughout the five boroughs. I also volunteered several times in Bedstuy with these mobile markets that are set up in food insecure neighborhoods and provide free produce and nutritional education several times a month. During the spring, I became more involved with the Greenmarket clothing collection. Every Saturday I worked at the market, during and at the end of shifts I also helped the clothing drives that were set up to collect New Yorker’s used clothing. This work also involved loading textiles onto trucks to be shipped to sorting facilities as well as engaging participants and involving other farmers to advertise at their own stands. This volunteer work was through Wearable Collection’s partnership with Grow NYC, a company focused on reducing landfills and fundraising for charity that uses farmers markets as outlets.
My experience working at the Farmers Markets and volunteering with their service partners has been truly the most educational community service of my life. I have discovered local farmers markets as oases of environmental awareness and hubs of ethnic and racial diversity. Having grown up in one of the most active and well known cities in the world, exposure to any other environment typically include adjusting to a much different culture. I have found that this culture divide is largely informed by divisions between rural and urban communities, a schism that extends to colonial times and prior. With farmers commuting from rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania, high school and college students engaging in part time work (often from wealthier families), other students from less wealthy families attending community college, and ages that span from 16 to 60 years old, I have never been surrounded by such a variety of voices and backgrounds applied to service and service learning. This diversity extends from the workers to the participants of GrowNYC initiatives, from Park Slope parents to families living on food-stamps. Applying the nutrition information that I learn throughout the day, so engrained in the regular and likely wealthier customers, to educating families in food insecure areas so that access to healthy options transcends wealth barriers, has introduced me to the environment’s intersection with health, small businesses, and social inequality. I am so grateful for the anthropological learning that has come with customer service coupled with the validating community service experiences that GrowNYC has given me my senior year. I am certain that I will seek out work in farmers markets during college as they truly are unrivaled epicenters of geographical, racial, and ethnic diversity that embody the use of intersectionality to address social inequality.
This year, my most fulfilling service experience came from my time with a section of Friends Seminary kindergarteners, with whom I spent almost every Friday afternoon during the second semester. I assisted Jody Caiola in organizing materials, supervising students, and teaching photography skills. On most days, I accompanied the kids to Rutherford Park and other local sites where the students were implored to experiment with their cameras and the ways in which different environments and prompts influenced final products. Once they were done shooting, we returned to the classroom and I uploaded pictures into personal folders that I had created for them where they proceeded to experiment with Photo-shop. I helped Jody introduce concepts such as temperature, saturation, contrast, exposure, cropping, landscape photos, portraits, and the like. From stimuli that were concrete as imitating the style of photographer Ansel Adams to abstract as emulating the feelings of chaos, I got to observe the way in which younger children express themselves creatively. The manner that the students got excited about their respective ideas was one of the most rewarding aspects, as I knew that I had aided in introducing them to this creative outlet. Further, I was enthralled with and refreshed by their enthusiasm, as it is a type of excitement that is unique to that age. In addition to the technical assistance, I forged relationships with some of the students that elicited nostalgic memories of my experiences in elementary school. I remembered how significant certain teachers, classes, and students were in developing my own interests and opinions. Assisting in this class weekly, I was able to observe and be a part of other students entries into exploring their own interests.
On January 16th, I assisted in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Concert hosted in the 15th street Meeting House. In addition to commemorating Martin Luther King, the concert was aimed towards raising funds for the Friends shelter (held in Friend Seminary’s common room nightly). The Concert exhibited Friend Seminary’s Jazz 1 orchestra, guest saxophone soloist Steve Wilson, and vocalists Pierre Cook and Libby Johnson. Additionally, New York City’s public advocate, Letitia James, read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church Speech.
The Friends Shelter has been in service since 1983. With the help of two alternative volunteers nightly, it provides a bed, food, and provisions for fourteen homeless people seven days a week. Operating on a small budget (with less then $3.50 a year), the shelter relies on donations from various service events on the generosity from the community. The MLK concert was therefore a great way to raise much-needed funds for the initiative. To assist, I baked brownies and cookies with several peers that were sold at the concession stand during intermission. During the concert, we heard Letitia James’ reading of MLK’s speech coupled with her hope-inspiring success story, Shannon and Libby Johnson perform James Taylor’s Shed a Little Light, and a longer set from the 15th Street Orchestra. Aside from the fundraising, the event was a great way to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr and promote the 15 Street Meeting House’s cause via music and arts. As New Yorkers, it is often that we become so accustom to encountering homelessness that we grow comfortable with it. More than just entertainment, the music and speeches that were shared brought hope and inspired help. The individual stories and musical expression made homelessness a more real and comprehensible issue, leaving me (as well as others) with the feeling that action is imperative.