Drew University students help out in Biloxi, Mississippi

Tags: Civic engagement, CLA, Community service and leadership, students, Theological school

Drew University students help out in Biloxi, Mississippi

“It was an eye-opening experience”

June 2022 – Fourteen students from Drew University traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi and surrounding areas to provide much-needed volunteer aid to the coastal area still ravaged by the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Drew’s Volunteering Without Borders, a student-run organization that connects students with service opportunities in local communities to engage in meaningful service journeys, both nationally and internationally, organized the event. The trip was supported by Drew’s Center for Civic Engagement, Drew Hillel and Student Engagement.

Students addressed community needs regarding environmental restoration and hunger.

“Students were able to work and learn from locals who dedicate their time to their community,” said the student leader of the trip and Drew Action Scholar Angel Wunderle C’24. “I think for many students it was an eye-opening experience. Yes, we were there to improve the physical aspects of Biloxi, but we also got to experience and contribute to the community.


Drew students working at 34th Street Holistic Community Garden

During the seven-day trip, the students planted seeds and vegetables in 34th Street Wholistic Community Garden in Gulfport, Mississippi, which provides access to healthy, affordable food to surrounding communities.

The group also volunteered with the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain to build two brick boardwalks for their on-site nature trail. “Despite constant hurricanes ruining their nature trails and limiting the growth of their vegetables, people are still committed to creating community spaces and working together,” Wunderle said.

“I think what’s had a pretty big impact for the students is being able to engage with the lives and stories of community members who live and battle not only the hurricanes we hear about on the news, but also the storms that bombard their communities and regularly cause great damage. base,” said Gionna Del Purgatorio C’20, Changebuilders Coordinator at Drew’s Center for Civic Engagement, who accompanied the students on the trip.



Construction of a brick boardwalk at the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain

Through daily reflections, students discovered other addressable issues, such as food waste and unequal pay.

“There are a lot of people working really hard to get food to our supermarkets – we don’t really know how our food gets to the table,” said Drew theological school student Labenyimoh Patrick T’23, graduate intern from the Center for Civic Engagement.

“This problem changes our ideas about food and the way we think about food,” he continued. “Hard work doesn’t necessarily mean you get paid a lot. Our society is built on the idea that people who work hard earn more.

“It was also great to see that the students weren’t taking these stories at face value, but thinking critically about how the story plays a part and what voices may be missing in the story,” said Del Purgatorio. “Many of us were previously unaware of the amount of care and maintenance needed for places we take for granted, such as public walking and hiking trails, in areas heavily impacted by storms and flooding. It’s a great example of how solutions to community problems look different in different parts of the country or the world, or even in one’s own community.


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