VUCF gives students chance to feed homeless
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 16:10
Volunteer students took time away from studying and other busy activities to travel downtown Monday night to partner with Volunteer UCF and Lend A Hand to feed about 200 homeless people.
VUCF took 17 students to St. George Orthodox Church to serve food to the homeless who had gathered on benches and on the ground for an event called Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back. While helping the homeless get satisfying meals is one goal of the event, there are actually many more that reach beyond service.
“That is part of the goal, to help and just provide [for] the need that they have … but it’s also to really help the volunteers who come raise the awareness about hunger and homelessness,” Todd Currie, VUCF hunger and homelessness coordinator, said. “Homelessness and hunger is a real problem in Orlando. It’s something that, although some of [the volunteers] may not encounter on a daily basis, there are a lot of people who are hungry and homeless in Orlando.”
The event did raise awareness with volunteer Weston Bayes, a sophomore political science major and member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, who had never volunteered with Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back before.
“It was very eye-opening to me — the homelessness in downtown Orlando — because I really had no idea it was such an issue,” Bayes said.
The event was started by Michael Higgins, a man previously addicted to cocaine. He said he became clean, turned his life to Jesus and began volunteering for his church.
“God told me to feed the homeless on Wednesdays and write ‘Jesus loves you’ on the bags,” Higgins said. He then stopped volunteering for his church and started feeding the homeless from the parking lot of St. George Orthodox Church. “Then, a year later, [God] told me to write ‘Love Him back’ on the other side of the bag.”
Higgins recruits local volunteers and UCF volunteers through VUCF to help set up, serve food and put everything away when the event is over.
“[My favorite part is] being in the trenches, loving on the people, hugging, getting sweaty with everyone, telling them my Jesus story,” Higgins said.
While they normally feed about 250 people, only about 200 people showed up Monday. Among those who were helped was Sherry Vegso, 48, who comes with her husband for the ministry. Also helped was Abdul Haya, 51, who said he comes to see his brothers and sisters in Christ.
“You get to see all the homeless gathered, and you don’t feel alone,” Haya said. “It gives us a lot of confidence and you feel like a family.”
Students said volunteering here was a way to change the community.
“I like being able to be here and seeing how we can help the community,” Eddie Garcia, senior and vice president of philanthropy for Beta Theta Pi, said. “My favorite part is seeing them smile.”
Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back allowed students to see that there are people who do not have things as easy they do.
“We’re all sheltered, but there are people struggling with everyday life,” said sophomore forensic science major Chris Felton, who has volunteered with the event two times before.
Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back provides a volunteer experience for students that they would not typically be able to get. Students are able to serve and interact with the people they are serving.
“They get the opportunity, if they take advantage of it, to talk to the people who are there, which is an opportunity that most people don’t get to have on an everyday basis. I think it just broadens your perspective,” Currie said.
Students who volunteered at the event wanted to participate again and encouraged other students to participate, too.
“A lot of people are scared of the homeless, but they’re people just like us. You just have to try it,” freshman psychology major Alyssa Barratt said.
VUCF takes between 15 and 20 students to Jesus Loves You, Love Him Back almost every other Monday. If students want to get involved, they can email Currie at email@example.com with their name, NID and whether or not they are willing to drive.