College Students Dedicate Spring Break to Volunteerism

20 students participate in United Way of Central Maryland’s week-long “Alternative Spring Break” projects designed to build awareness around food insecurity.

Dispelling the myth that the only thing college students care about on spring break is the beach, a group of 20 students from seven different schools devoted their week off to getting involved and giving back to the community as part of United Way of Central Maryland’s Alternative Spring Break.

From March 18 to March 22, the spring breakers are participating in events focused around the issue of food insecurity and hunger, including a bus tour of Baltimore food deserts and local healthy food programs; a public policy briefing in Washington D.C. and meeting with anti-hunger advocate Rep. Jim McGovern; screening of the documentary "A Place at the Table"; volunteering at United Way’s Family Food Day to feed 800 Head Start families; and preparing a community garden for Franklin Square Elementary School students to plant with Parks & People Foundation.

"I’ve done alternative spring breaks in other places, but never near home," said Anne Arundel Community College sophomore Shannon Ryan, formerly of Odenton, Md. "It’s a shock to see hunger here, and it’s nice to be able to help people close to home."

All of these activities tie back to United Way of Central Maryland’s Access to Healthy Food Initiative, which is changing the landscape of food insecurity locally by sourcing more healthy food, improving its distribution and increasing access and affordability. The initiative launched in 2011 in response to the fact that more than one in 10 (300,000+) central Maryland residents are deemed food insecure, meaning that they do not have adequate access to nutritious and safe food. Food insecurity is rooted in poverty and exacerbated by rising food costs, lack of grocery stores and lack of transportation.

"United Way’s Alternative Spring Break helps unite local students with their community. It can be an eye opening experience, and it’s very meaningful for them," said Christiana Mercer, UWCM’s Alternative Spring Break manager. "We’re thrilled to have the support of so many local universities, helping to get their students to focus their energy in our community."

"You will never understand some people’s issues until you walk in their shoes," said Teisha Miles, a student at Anne Arundel Community College. "I never knew so many people were living in the life of poverty and lack, but as I visited some of United Way’s impact partner organizations, I had the chance to see poverty first hand."

The students participating in Alternative Spring Break hail from local schools including Towson University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore, UMBC, Anne Arundel Community College and Coppin State University – as well as from out-of-state colleges like Hampton University.

To see more photos from Alternative Spring Break, please visit Student United Way of Central Maryland’s Facebook page.

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