Yumiko Figaro, Participant and Student Leader for GLU
There is little you can possibly imagine yourself learning in just one week. Before becoming a participant for the February session of “Global Thinking, Local Action, Universal Impact” (or GLU for short), I remember wondering just how much I would be able to learn in only one week. But after participating in both the February session on Housing and Homelessness along with the summer session on Food Justice and Inequality, I understood that it wasn’t about how much information we acquired or how much knowledge we could cram into our minds. It was about the changing of one’s mindset, realizing that yes, while there are some cases in which homeless people have made poor choices that led to their current situation, there is also a multitude of reasons why people become homeless, whether you’re evicted from your home because your rent begins rising at an unfathomable rate, or you’re forced to leave your childhood neighborhood because it no longer wants you; it’s raising its prices to get rid of people like you.
The GLU program’s purpose is not to preach about the inequality of human rights while a group of high school students sits in a circle and listens to a speaker. There exists a great divide between social justice and charitable works recently. The GLU program seeks to address the perceived divide by bridging the gap between the two. It is a big misconception that the two are different from each other, that one is more important than the other. Some seem to think that donating money to charity is the right way to go; feeding the hungry is the goal, taking care of the needy is the priority. But what about the long term? Who will be the voice advocating for those who can’t afford housing because of gentrification and urban renewal? Who’s going to fight for the people who have been cheated out of their right to social justice?
This week we learned about both the difference between charity and social justice, and that one is not more important than the other. Yes, we need to feed our hungry. We need to give back to those who are suffering now. But we also can’t forget about those long term goals as well; fighting for the issues entrenched in our society since the 1970s, and way before that as well. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), describes it, the Two Feet of Love in Action: being able to find a balance between charitable works and social justice on both feet. One is not ever more important than the other. Without one, our communities will continue to suffer unless we find a way to give attention to both at once.
Through the GLU program, high school students are introduced to two of Inwood’s community fridges. Throughout the week, students pack deliveries into carts and haul them into the “kitchen’s” pantry and fridge. Students packed about nine dozen bags of bread into the fridge. We packed cabbage, fruits, vegetables, beans, peanut butter, juices, spaghetti, seasoning, numerous gallons of milk, and much more. We visited New York City Love Kitchen and formed our own assembly line, packing individual bags for people to pick up and take home with them. Because this year’s summer GLU program was focused on food injustice and inequality, students were more involved with service that dealt with feeding the hungry and providing groceries for those that might be lacking in those resources.
Having a community fridge might seem like a strange concept at first, but I gradually began to see how important it is. I learned that every community would thrive best if they had one, no matter the income of the people that live there. It’s important that these community fridges exist, because there are people in our neighborhoods who are not getting enough food and cannot afford to buy the healthiest options. While there are plenty of ways to donate to charity and give back to the community, a lot of people are unaware of the dynamics that come with charity. In our February GLU program, we learned how the act of charity, while intended out of a good place, can be seen and felt as dehumanizing. Humans are creatures that take pride in being able to provide for themselves, and the act of controlling what amount of food someone gives as well as what time they receive it, can make anyone feel like they are inferior. The dynamics here demonstrates how relevant it is to have these community fridges. Having a fridge is important because it shows that people are capable of landing upright even after they fall, and that good communities can be built between people within close proximity to each other. Having the community fridge be open and available to people at all times creates a good dynamic throughout the neighborhood.
Throughout the week of the GLU program, we learned the importance of having a good relationship between the people that live around you. The GLU program is not merely a week of cramming as much information as possible into high school students’ minds, just so they can forget about it next month. It’s more about being introduced to the world of resources and service sites such as New York City Love Kitchen and other community fridges. It’s about opening a door and being brought onto new horizons, and understanding that while true, authentic change can never happen overnight, we can take the steps to get there by being knowledgeable and always seeking education from programs like GLU. It’s also knowing that every little thing has an impact, positive or negative. Change will not happen immediately, but being mindful that our every action affects our community will help people in the long run. It is important to remember that not one human need can be neglected, whether that need applies to social justice, charity, or both.
Yumiko Figaro, Participant and Student Leader for GLU