Community service has been one of the greatest experiences of my stay in the US. UC San Diego has tradition in community involvement: an office is in place to connect those eager to serve the community and institutions in need of help. Throughout the year, it promotes different activities to integrate the university with the San Diegan community. So far, I had the opportunity to join as a volunteer in two occasions: working on behalf of the Oneanta Elementary School and of the San Diego Food Bank.
Last January 16 the US celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr Day. A holiday observed in memory of a leader of the civil rights movement, it is celebrated in many parts of the country as a Day of Service: people get involved in different activities to help their communities. At UC San Diego, volunteers were called to work on behalf of the Oneonta Elementary School. The school is located in Imperial Beach and has 563 students; 80% of them receive their meals free or with reduced cost (a measure to allow that all students eat properly even when their families cannot afford the full costs of meals). Teachers and students of the school joined the UC San Diego crowd in the service.
Several activities were developed by the volunteers: gardening; wall painting; fixing sports facilities; fixing the fence around the school; organizing books in the school library; organizing school files; fixing computer malfunctions. Volunteers were randomly divided in groups for each task and the school crowd oversaw the works, making sure that all was done right.
On February 11 it was time to help the San Diego Food Bank. It is the largest hunger relief organization in the San Diego county. The bank collects donations from all over the county and distributes them to those in need, sometimes through the help of other institutions. It receives hundreds of tons of food every month and delivers them to more than 200 thousand people. The staff is small, so volunteers are needed to help sorting all the items and packing them in the boxes that will go to the beneficiaries.
Taking part in community service has been great. It is an opportunity to meet UC San Diego members that I would not meet on a daily basis: students and Faculty from other departments, staff and their families. It is nice to see professors, students, staff and their families working side-by-side to help other people. It is so interesting to meet people from so many nationalities and backgrounds and learn more about each other. And the greatest lesson is that although we come from different parts of the world, we are all willing to work to make it better.