By Deqa Moussa
Every semester, Better Together at UNF does a service project. This is an opportunity to give back to the community. Thanks to Better Together members Josef Kim and Sarah Rosen who coordinated the event, this semester we volunteered at the Sulzbacher Center in downtown Jacksonville. The Sulzbacher Center is the only comprehensive homeless shelter in Jacksonville, meaning it houses and also assists residents in finding work. There are currently 356 men, women and children living at the shelter. It is at full capacity with a long waiting list. While this was not my first time at a homeless shelter, this was different than any other experience I had. Brittany Seidenstricker, the person in charge on the night we went, put us straight to work as soon as we walked in. After washing our hands and donning our aprons and gloves, we began preparing for dinner assembly-style. Sulzbacher has two serving windows, the men on one side and the single women and families on another. The group of us separated to our respective sides and began serving. When dinner was over we cleaned up then went on a little tour of the kitchens, courtesy of Brittany.
Sulzbacher has been here serving the community for 21 years, but not without outside help. Sulzbacher runs on donations and volunteer work with Publix being the biggest contributor. This week alone they donated two semi-trucks full of Tyson chicken. Seventy-five percent of the food Sulzbacher serves is donated, and nearly all the vegetables come from Farmshare, which is a nonprofit organization that recovers food from farms, wholesalers and other groups and donates it to feed the hungry. Sulzbacher also participates in Meals on Wheels every Monday to Friday, packaging the food right there in their center. They need people to come and cook meals, serve meals or just hang out with the kids. These are our people, our community.
I honestly loved my experience at Sulzbacher. Too many times people who are homeless are stereotyped in a negative light. I encourage others to go to their local shelter and sit down and have conversations with the residents there. As we were leaving the shelter that night, one of the guests I had spoken to earlier was singing. Her singing was soft but strong, and when we stopped walking she asked if we recognized the tune. It was an old Gospel song that she used to sing to her friend when they were staying at a women’s shelter. She said that times are hard right now and she needs joy in her life, and singing brings that joy. I will remember that conversation, I will remember to keep singing, and I will remember to care for my community. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and it is important to support your people.
For more information and opportunities to volunteer, check out http://www.sulzbachercenter.org/
Deqa is a junior at UNF, majoring in English with a minor in International Studies. This is her first semester at the Interfaith Center. She loves Interfaith because it is such a welcoming and loving environment.