As a member of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, I have a quota of service hours to fill each semester. This semester, my very first service event was an adventure to Skid Row, which is home to the majority of LA’s homeless population. Generally I try to stay away from places like this, especially after dark. But this service event was through a group that goes there every single day and knows the risks and how to deal with them, so I felt safe giving it a try.
First we met up with other volunteers for the night and all worked together to make peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese sandwiches. Then the director got us all in a circle to give us a talk. He told us candidly about the dangers of Skid Row, which is the place where all the homeless people of Los Angeles are taken to live. Skid Row sees heightened levels of violence and crime, because the people there often have nothing to lose. Our director told us that our job was to lessen that feeling of worthlessness, even if it was only for a few minutes. He also gave us specific directions for exactly what to do if we felt like we were at all close to danger.
After squeezing into vans and driving our route, we set up shop on a sidewalk at Skid Row. The people there were lined up because they knew we were coming and that we would bring them food. We formed an assembly line and worked to hand out food, snacks, and drinks. But the most important thing we did was to ask for each person’s name as he/she came up to the front of the line. Whoever was asking would shout out the name at all of us volunteers, and we would yell back, “HI, [name]!” Not only was it fun for us, but as the director pointed out later, a lot of these people are never addressed by name– they have nobody to talk to who knows them. Hearing their names reminded these people that they did have an identity, and that they were important, at least to us.
After we finished handing out food, talking to people, and visiting one of the shelters, we reconvened back where we had met earlier. The director sat us down in a circle again and gave us another talk about why our jobs were important. He told us about his vision to start a shelter on Skid Row that was different from the other shelters. He wanted to work with the people there to help them rehabilitate and find jobs. This was one of the only service events I’ve done that came along with a reflection, and I thought it was fantastic.
One of my favorite things about LA is that it’s a mix of adventure and opportunity. There are so many ways to get out and have fun, learn about the city’s history, explore the beautiful geography, and take advantage of places like Disneyland and Magic Mountain. But there are also many areas that we have the opportunity to improve. I love that I have the best of both worlds. I plan to spend a large portion of my future years here working to serve and improve the community so that USC can continue to steadily become more and more safe, and the rest of LA can as well.
Until next time!