Several CSE students spent their spring breaks volunteering in and around Camden as part of the "Urban Challenge." Julia Davidson, '18, a foods and nutrition major, shares her account of this experience below:
Morristown, N.J. (March 23, 2017) – My name is Julia Davidson, and I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Urban Challenge in Camden during spring break. Nine students attended the service trip, and we represented the College of Saint Elizabeth by loving and serving others. I wanted to thank the College for providing us with this truly eye opening experience.
The Urban Challenge Program is an urban, service-learning, immersion experience rooted in the Catholic faith tradition. We spent six days serving others in Camden, New Jersey. This trip forced us outside of our comfort zones, and made us see God in every person we were serving.
Throughout the week, we visited service sites such as the Mercy Center, the Neighborhood Center, Cathedral Soup Kitchen, The Abigail House, and Generations. This was my first time attending a service trip, and it opened my eyes to the injustices that go on right in New Jersey. Camden's population is 77,000, with 40% living below the poverty line, and the median income being $25,042.
One of the most intense experiences during the trip was a food challenge. We were divided into groups of four, and were only allowed to spend $12 for all three meals for four people. We were then bused to the "best" supermarket in Camden, Cousins Supermarket. The supermarket had limited fruits and vegetables, and they were too expensive to buy for our $12 budget. From there, we were given 15 minutes to buy our meals for the day, using just $12.
Each group was given a different situation. My group's situation was that we were homeless, so we didn't have access to a stove, microwave, or a refrigerator. We ended up buying cereal, bread, peanut butter, jelly, and beans. This food challenge exposed me to the daily struggles those living in poverty go through on a daily basis.
Another experience that impacted me was visiting the urban garden at The Neighborhood Center in Camden. This garden was located in [the disadvantaged part] of Camden. The garden grows fresh fruits and vegetables for Camden residents.
We had the opportunity to speak with the creator of the garden, Mary. She told us how Camden has limited access to healthy foods, and that the garden helps bring nutrient dense foods into Camden.
My major at CSE is dietetics, and my passion is bringing healthy food access into food deserts, like Camden. I deeply believe that everyone deserves the right to healthy food, regardless of location and income level.
One of the saddest moments in Camden was seeing the public library that closed down in 2011, and has not been reopened since. Camden has only two free public libraries. Camden residents must look somewhere else for access to computers or books. This is not okay. I feel called to do something about the injustices that others go through right in New Jersey.
In America, over 43 million Americans live in poverty. There are over 1.1 million food insecure people living in New Jersey. More than 340,000 New Jersey residents live in food deserts and have limited access to supermarkets.
Before going to Camden, these statistics were just numbers to me. But after experiencing and seeing the injustices in Camden, it has motivated me to speak up for the voiceless.
This summer, I plan on using what I learned from this service trip, and applying it to help others. I plan on volunteering at the garden at The Neighborhood Center in Camden. I also plan on volunteering with the homeless in Paterson, and passing out sandwiches.
I'm passionate about bringing food justice to under-served populations living in food deserts!
Now that I am fully aware of the injustices going on in Camden, I cannot not do something. We have a very powerful group of students that came on the trip, and we plan on affecting the world in a positive way.
Thank you again for making this trip possible!