Alt break to serve Tacoma and address food justice

Alternative Break (“Alt Break” for short) is a unique service immersion program hosted by the Department of Spirituality, Service & Social Justice during the fall and spring breaks. This year, Alt Spring Break has the theme of Sustainable Food Justice.

“We will spend the first half of spring break exploring the successes, issues, and impacts of America’s food system, locally and nationwide,” project leader Jasmine Kaneshiro and Assistant Director for Spirituality, Service & Social Justice Sarah Shives said.

Alt Break will include workshops, guest speakers and service projects. The workshops will discuss a wide variety of topics, including food sovereignty, community gardens, food forests, food banks, food deserts, fair trade, gleaning and farmers markets.  For the service projects, Alt Break participants will be working with various Tacoma community partners, including Hilltop Urban Gardens (HUG), Harvest Pierce County and Emergency Food Network.
“We chose our topic [Sustainable Food Justice] because there is a lot of momentum and interest around Sustainable Food Justice both on and off campus,” Kaneshiro and Shives said. “[And] there are already a lot of campus and community groups addressing various subtopics around sustainability, food and social justice, but not everyone is making connections between them.”
Kaneshiro and Shives want to engage their participants in the issues that they talk about.

“We believe that awareness and education are only two small parts of being active citizens,” they said. They are partnering with local organizations for the opportunity to do community service projects. Their efforts help out these sometimes understaffed and underfunded programs.

Alt Break started during the 2006-2007 school year. Kate Cohn and Dave Wright, two alums, began a program that evolved into what is currently known as Alternative Break.  They started out with a small program consisting of 12 juniors and seniors who were interested in nonprofit leadership. This group ended up having a great four-day program where they did a variety of volunteer projects but also met with a range of local directors, fundraisers and others in the professional nonprofit world.

Puget Sound students are very interested in Sustainable Food Justice, according to Kaneshiro and Shives.

“Because this is an opportunity for students with various levels of familiarity and previous engagement to really dig into Sustainable Food Justice, it is a very accessible opportunity,” Kaneshiro and Shives said. “Also, food [in both production & consumption] is relevant to everyone and we all participate in our regional and national food systems.”

Alternative breaks include lots of meals and group bonding in addition to the interesting projects. Alt Break is also only the first half of spring break, so students have the second half of spring break to enjoy their time with their friends or family. There are about 15-20 students who participate in each Alternative Break.

Kaneshiro and Shives encourage students to participate in Alt Break this year for many reasons. “It’s a great opportunity to get to know people on campus and to engage with local organizations,” they said. “[You also] learn about Sustainable Food Justice and think intentionally about our impact in the world.”
Alt Break will take place from Sunday, Mar. 16 to Wednesday, Mar. 19. The website for Alt Break is BIT.LY/ALTBREAK14, and it includes a link to registration. There is also a Facebook event if you would like to learn more about Alt Break 2014.