K-State students serve others on alternative spring break

photo courtesy of Nicole White K-State students decorated a few bricks from previous alternative breaks that can still be seen outside of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, located in Memphis, Tenn.

Editor’s note: Nicole White, senior in elementary education, participated in an alternative break trip sponsored by the School of Leadership Studies last week. For more information, visit k-state.edu/leadership/programs/altbreaks.

A little over a week ago, I set out for a trip with nine fellow K-Staters to Memphis, Tenn., to enjoy our spring break by feeding the homeless and spending time with children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This experience is anything but the average spring break for college students. What none of us knew was that this experience would impact all of us forever.

We left Manhattan on Sunday morning and began our 9 1/2-hour car ride to Memphis. By the time we all arrived at our destination, we had already formed close friendships. On Monday morning, we began our week of service.

We started each day at the soup kitchen in St. Mary’s Church. We made food for the homeless and cleaned the pantry and kitchen. The most rewarding part of the soup kitchen was being able to feed people who came to the church to retrieve what might have been their only meal for the day. When a homeless person was asked how their day was going, most said something like, “I am blessed and thankful that I get to live another day.”

The next task for us during our week in Memphis was to sort through dozens and dozens of boxes of donations that were sent to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Vilma Carnahan, who oversees all non-monetary St. Jude donations, works year-round by herself to organize these gifts. She said our assistance over spring break helped her with roughly three months of work that she would have otherwise had to do all on her own.

As a group, we sorted through hundreds of toys, coloring books, hats, blankets and other items to ensure that the children received the highest-quality donations possible. The donations the hospital does not use are sent out to local communities. No donation sent to St. Jude is ever wasted.

Every evening, we went to the Memphis Grizzlies House on the St. Jude campus. This house provides patients and families who need to be at St. Jude for checkups or various appointments a place to stay for up to seven days.

The Memphis Grizzlies House changed my life forever. Members of the K-State team formed meaningful bonds with the children and parents. Seeing the looks on the children’s faces when they walked into the house after a long day at the hospital, knowing that K-State students were there to feed them junk food and play games for several hours, was priceless. We spent hours with these children running around and just letting them get to be kids. We heard their stories. We let the parents relax for once. We created lifelong memories.

The children taught us more than we could teach them; our work at the Grizzlies House taught us all about life. Saying goodbye to the children and the parents with whom we had all formed bonds was heartbreaking. Due to the hospital’s confidentiality policy, none of us will ever know how our favorite patients are now or what they are up to. All we can do is be thankful for the short time we got to spend with them and pray that they are recovering from cancer.

I am so thankful for the opportunity K-State gave me for an alternative break. I now have gained nine amazing people as friends and memories that will never leave me, and I hope that one day all of the children and homeless people I met in Memphis are happy and healthy.