The last time I went to Washington DC, I was in grade school. I remember that my mom and my aunt brought me with them. They were so excited to see all the art museums and monuments. I hated it.
I couldn’t have cared less about giant statues and boring pictures. I probably made my mom think I was the most ungrateful little brat under the summer sun.
That was our thing; my mom is a teacher, so if we were going to go anywhere, it was always during summertime. I just want to start off this post with a big ole, SORRY MOM!
Because for the first time as an adult, I visited DC and to be in the presence of so much history was damn near overwhelming. I totally get it now.
As some of you know, I’ve been participating in an internship with a nonprofit that is working to end world hunger. Feeding Children Everywhere (FCE) has not only been one of the fastest growing nonprofits in central Florida, but has also opened up my eyes to the opportunities around me; all I have to do is seize them!
My first adventure with FCE was recent a trip on September 10th and 11th to DC with a bunch of other interns…and I didn’t really know any of them. It was a little nerve wrecking, but in hindsight, absolutely worth it. We were headed to package 1 million meals for seniors in need through AARP and US Hunger on the national day of service. And did I mention all the new friends I made by the end of it?
Our travels began with a flight out of Orlando at 5:20 am, which meant getting to the airport parking lot at about 3:30 am.
Maybe it was the adrenaline of going to a place with a bunch of people I didn’t know to work my first hunger project that pushed me through, but the flight wasn’t bad at all. TSA was pretty breezy. We even had a lay over flight in Atlanta, which I’d never done before. It was actually way easier flying with a bunch of people, despite barely knowing one another.
We arrived in DC around 10:30 am and grabbed coffee. A woman dressed to the nines, and I chatted for a bit while waiting in line. That’s kind of a thing in DC; everyone dresses like they’re really important. She told me about the sights to see and I told her about FCE. It was a new feeling, watching someone else’s eyes light up when I said we were here to package food. Honestly, it was kind of awkward, and then I realized we were actually doing something cool. Something good.
We piled into a big black chevy SUV and ubered (that’s not a recognized verb yet but like..it should be) to our hunger project for set up. We arrived at the Washington Mall and started slinging boxes, 50 pound bags of rice and lentils and sorted hundreds of wet wipes. Riveting work I tell you.
Seriously though, set up was a long day (and remember we all were basically running on no sleep), but we made it through. The jokes were free flowing, conversation was good. We were all finally starting to get to know each other.
Something that really resonated with me was how much everyone else had already traveled. So many voices around me spoke about studying abroad, backpacking through Europe, and even moving to other countries with their families.
I’m a Florida girl, born and raised, through and through. I’m 25 and embarrassingly enough, I’ve never seen snow and I’ve never even seen the leaves change.
My mind started to wander. Am I less of an asset than all these people around me that have traveled so much more? Am I less cultured? Am I less than, in general?
I had to snap myself out of it and remember exactly where I was: Washington DC. And that the next day, we’d be working together to package 1 million meals for seniors in need.
I was exactly where I was supposed to be, with the people I was supposed to be surrounded with. It was enlightening and refreshing to be surrounded by all these new personalities and colorful minds.
We went out exploring that night. We shared laughs, snapped pictures and traded stories. It was a night that I’ll never forget.
The next morning I was up and ready to go by 6 am. My hotel roomie and I dragged our luggage behind us and made our way to the Washington Mall. It was go time.
The enormous white tent on Washington Mall housed 65 tables, each for 12-15 volunteers. It was filled with banners repping AARP and US Hunger. There were 5 shifts. Each table had a volunteer in charge, a table captain, and they would lead the rest of their volunteers on how to package the meals. It was a room of assembly lines unlike anything I’ve ever seen; I’d say it was very well controlled chaos. Each shift lasted a little over an hour and then the current volunteers would file out while new ones came in.
For the next 10 hours, we were on.
I never thought I’d see myself lugging 50 pound bags of rice and lentils and dancing while I was doing it, but life is funny like that.
The music was blasting from a DJ on stage, a peacock mascot waltzed around the room, AARP employees snapped pictures and even Carla Hall showed up to amp up the event! Close to 4,000 people total packaged meals. Each shift contributed about 250,000 meals on average. We completed and exceeded our goal of 1 million meals for seniors in need.
That’s a whole lot of rice and beans.
When it came time to break down, I was covered in plastic bits, sweat, and onion powder. I was not lookin’ like a snack, to say the least.
We finished up cleaning and decided on one last adventure: The Lincoln Memorial.
It was about 6 pm and we had to be at the airport at 8 pm. We had a short window of time before dealing with TSA on 9/11, so why not?
Between set up, the night out, walking everywhere, hauling huge sacks of dried goods and break down, my thighs were basically ready to kill me. Still, walking up those stairs, it felt special.
To look out and see the reflection pond, to stand in front of the Lincoln Memorial in a lull of quiet, it was just special. Those moments made me feel like we had come so far as a country, together. I also felt like we have so far to go. But not in a bad way. More like in a way that felt so do-able, so possible. We had packaged altogether 1,009,000 meals for hungry seniors. If that doesn’t say that we can make a difference, then I should’ve just turned into a lentil and rolled down the stairs then and there.
Our uber ride to the airport was light shift in energy. Aka, we sang along to some Beyonce and Neil Diamond.
Sing(read?) it with me…Sweeeeet Caroooliiiiiine, your turn: BAH BAH BAAAAAH
Always good for the end of a trip and just good for the soul, am I right?
We grabbed a bite to eat at the Dulles airport and chatted about things like activism groups, future travels and even some of our biggest fears. It was then and there that I realized I had no idea what I feared. I began to question myself, and that would weigh on my mind through even the flight back. We landed and bid our sleepy “goodbyes and see ya next week” adieus, and it was finally time to go home.
So what did I learn? What’s the moral? The point?
I learned I am way stronger than I realized. Rice and beans got nothin’ on me. I learned how much I value travel and being surrounded by positive, well rounded beings. I learned that making a difference is something that I desire to accomplish with my life’s work. And I learned that my greatest fear isn’t necessarily an external matter, but more of an internal affair. What I fear most, is getting in my own way, and not fulfilling all of my own potential. I have to remember to push myself to be my best, to seize the moment, grasp opportunities as they come and embrace them all to make a difference.
Thanks for reading y’all, until next time. Much love.