University of South Florida St. Petersburg



A spring break spent volunteering at food pantries and shelters provides lessons on cultural relationships and empathy

Spring break service trip

The students worked at the Atlanta Community Food Bank one morning and sorted through 7,361 pounds of food, which will go on to make approximately 5,387 meals.

By Matthew Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing

While many students took a break from studies during spring break to visit family or vacation with friends, a group of 11 students from USF St. Petersburg traveled to Atlanta for a community service project. 

Un-BULL-ieveable Service Break Trips offer students an opportunity to travel to different service sites to give back to communities. This year, students went to Atlanta to work with the Medici Project. The organization connects college students to service projects and non-profit organizations in multiple cities. 

In Atlanta, students worked with various community organizations on issues involving homelessness, local food systems and youth development.

“The trip went better than I could have imagined, as the students got the chance to work with many different organizations on a variety of projects and really experience the world of service and volunteerism in Atlanta,” said Kasey Szel, coordinator of Leadership and Student Organizations at USF St. Petersburg who helped organize the trip.

While volunteering at the city’s largest food pantry, a community garden and a rehabilitation shelter for those looking to transition out of homelessness, students learned about the critical issues impacting individuals and the communities around Atlanta. The service trip’s curriculum touched on poverty, nutrition and cross-cultural relationships, and centered on students reflecting on each day’s experience.

The students participating were a diverse group, representing different majors, graduation classes and backgrounds. Some of the students had been world travelers, while others had never left Florida.

“Almost all the students involved this year had never done a service trip and they were interested in this opportunity since it was planned out by the university,” Szel said. “It also was a great way for students to meet and engage with others they hadn’t known before.”

One of those students experienced in service trips was Lilly Figueroa Rodriguez, who took part in the Un-BULL-ieveable Service Break Trip last year. This year, she was a site leader who served as a bridge between the student group and community organizations and facilitated discussions about the group’s daily experiences.

“I went last year and helped to paint a church in New Orleans. It was an extremely fun and rewarding experience and so I wanted to do it again,” Rodriguez said. “And this year was equally amazing. Everyone got along so well and worked hard. I was glad to have all these experiences with different organizations and people, as I learned so much and it really exposed us to community service.”

Trip organizers hoped this experience would develop greater empathy for less fortunate people and that the spirit of service would stay with students as they returned home. This proved to be true.

“Right away, students naturally saw the connection between doing community service work on this trip and wanting to be part of similar work when they got back home,” Szel said.

Rodriguez echoed those sentiments, and is hoping to plan volunteer outings with those who went on the trip and other students who are interested in community service.

“As we were helping in Atlanta, we kept thinking about how we could do the same in St. Petersburg,” she said. “We all wanted to keep this work going. Volunteering can be fun.”

Learn more about what the group did and view all the pictures from the spring break service trip on the iam_usfsp Instagram student takeover page.

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