Tigers in Service hit the road again last weekend when 11 students traveled to Topeka to lend a hand at the Topeka Rescue Mission. They were in for an experience they would not soon forget.
“I have been on many service trips, but this was my ultimate favorite one. You’re actually serving these people and just knowing you’re making such a difference. Just talking to the students on the way home, the impact it had on their lives, they are wanting to go out and serve more,” said senior Jordan Schmeidler, project coordinator for the Center for Civic Leadership.
Tigers in Service is a branch of the Center for Civic Leadership and is committed to providing community service in Hays as well as in many other communities. Topeka was a short trip, considering they have travelled as far as Atlanta, Ga. and Austin, Texas in the past year.
A greater distance doesn’t always mean a greater experience, though. “It was a service trip, but it was also such an educational trip to us, as we learned so much about how to fight homelessness and become better overall civically engaged citizens,” Schmeidler said.
While in Topeka, the Fort Hays students helped to organize the Rescue Mission’s Distribution Center, which includes an extensive food and clothing bank. The locals in Topeka donate all of the items, for the Rescue Mission is a self-run charitable corporation with strong Christian ties. The Topeka Rescue Mission does not accept any government funding and is run by charitable contributions by people who donate their time.
About 200,000 meals are served at the food bank every year. It serves meals seven days a week, and with a limited staff, it can use all the help it can get. This is where the Tigers stepped in, organizing the recently donated food for future meals.
In addition to the food, the students also separated much of the recently donated clothing. With 40,000 articles of clothing passing through the Mission each year, their help was greatly needed and appreciated.
Not only does the Rescue Mission offer clothing and food, but it also offers a place to stay while it helps its residents reach a point of self-sustainability. While in Topeka, the Fort Hays students helped a recent occupant of the Mission move into his own place. “It’s not a short-term mentality that they have; they are there for life for these people,” Schmeidler said.
After moving in this single mother, the emotions ran high as she personally hugged and thanked each student for all of the help.
Homelessness is on the rise across the country, and Kansas is not immune to this. Topeka alone is home to approximately 1,600 homeless individuals. “When I think of Kansas, unfortunately, I think everyone is living within their means and everyone is fine. It definitely opened my eyes to see that there is such a huge demand. Topeka isn’t even the biggest city in Kansas, and there is still homelessness,” said senior Jordan Roston, co-coordinator for Tigers in Service.
The Mission also provides GED programs, substance abuse classes and many other services to get these people back on their feet. Most of the volunteers at the Mission were at one time homeless themselves and have come back to help out, so they understand the struggles that go along with being homeless and the journey back to being a self-sustaining member of society.
“The whole time we were down there, we realized after being in a big city like Austin just a month ago, that with such a big corporation, they don’t get the chances to do things the Topeka Rescue Mission does, like get people furniture or help them out with housing,” Roston said.
The Fort Hays students not only donated their time on this trip, but they also left a lasting impression on the hundreds of people who go through the Mission every day. The ripples of their generosity will stretch well past the individuals living in the Mission and hopefully extend back to Hays and encourage more people to get involved. “Students shouldn’t always wait for a service event to be planned. There is always an opportunity knocking; they just need to answer it.” Schmeidler said. “There is so much that needs to be done here in Hays and throughout Kansas. Just go out and do it.”