While many college students head south over spring break to indulge in rum-laden beach parties and tan beside poolside cabanas, a handful of students from Boston University headed west to Missoula to lend a hand, helping the city’s hungry and homeless.
This week, Tanner Connolly and Emily Lawson, students at Boston University, have assisted the Montana Food Bank Network in packaging and sorting food.
They’ve repainted and cleaned dormitories at the Poverello Center, participated in a “CANstruction” food drive, and spent a day in Butte, working at the Butte Emergency Food Rescue.
“It’s really important to step outside yourself and spend time giving to other people,” said Connolly. “It’s a good refresher in the problems and adversities people face, and how we can come together as a community and counter that.”
Connolly, a junior majoring in philosophy and English, arrived in Missoula with his peers, eager to see if East Coast stereotypes of Montana and the Rocky Mountain West held true.
Homelessness is the same no matter where it exists, they learned, and hunger bears the same face. Boston may be large in comparison, but Missoula is big as well, at least by Montana standards, and the problems the two cities face aren’t that different.
“A lot of the demographics you see in Boston are represented in Missoula,” Connolly said. “I think the biggest contrast was the amount of joblessness out here. I’m not saying it’s easier to get a job in Boston, but there are many more out there, I feel, than here.”
Students participating in Boston University’s alternative spring break program had a choice of nearly 40 cities, but only two sat west of Des Moines, Iowa – those being Missoula and Flagstaff, Ariz.
Some students in the program headed to Chicago to volunteer doing HIV/AIDS work. Some went to Detroit to work in bully prevention efforts with lesbian and gay students.
“None of us had ever been to Montana before, and we wanted to see what it was all about,” Lawson said. “We love it so far. Hunger is an issue that a lot of us have worked with before, and we wanted to see what hunger looks like in Montana.”
The alternative spring break program was founded at BU in 1987. Run through the school’s Community Service Center, it gives students an opportunity to learn about social issues and develop leadership skills while on the job across the country.
Nearly 390 BU students volunteered for the program this year, along with 78 coordinators and 39 chaperones.
“It makes us want to do more in Boston, and keep Montana a part of our life,” Lawson said of her visit to the Garden City and Big Sky Country. “I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Missoula. It was more of a city than I expected.”