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Acting Director of Service-Learning
Office of Service-Learning
4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
New Orleans: Spring Break 05
When many people think about spring break they see sunny beaches filled with half naked drunken college aged students. My experience this past spring break was quite different. Nine students from Eckerd College plus I (the service learning intern) piled into a twelve passenger van and drove eleven hours from St. Petersburg Florida to New Orleans to work at a local community garden.
This was an experience like no other because God's Vineyard (the name of the local community garden) is such a special place, with very hard working people doing good deeds in their community and trying to survive all at the same time. God's Vineyard is based out of a local New Orleans Baptist Church; the program was started by Earl Antwine in 1997. Earl used the church's small land plot and turned it into a community garden. Boys from the neighborhood that are part of the program help in the garden, and work with Earl while he is making the St. Thomas Seven Pepper Hot Sauce, which is the only source of income that this organization has.
We got there on a Sunday night and started work Monday at 9:00 am. Our days were long, and most of the time we were there till 5:30 or even 6:30 in the evening. The work was rewarding and worth it though our jobs varied every day. We cleaned up their food storage pantry, tilled and weeded the garden, fed their chickens and rabbits, fed the homeless that came up to the church to eat, picked up food from Second Harvest (which is a spot for local grocery stores to drop off expired food that they can no longer sell), distributed food to the local community, and we also made their hot sauce. What a process that was! There are seven different kinds of peppers in their hot sauce: almost all the peppers have to be seeded. Then they are cleaned and are pickled over night. The bottles that the sauce goes into have to be boiled. The peppers then have to be cooked, and re-cleaned, then ground together. Then you add vinegar to the peppers and the whole thing is ground together again. Then you have to stuff the bottles with the sauce, and, if the sauce is too thick or thin the bottle is dumped back into the pot until the sauce is the right consistency. Then you cook the bottles again with the hot sauce inside, seal the bottles, label them, and shrink wrap the tops, package the bottles into boxes and sell the hot sauce at local shows, distributors, and farmers markets. This was a process that took the ten of us almost a whole week to do.
Earl Antwine is pretty much a one man show, and he gets some help from one of the older boys in his community. Earl sees that this hot sauce is his program's only survival, so most days he is up at four in the morning and is working till late in the evening. Our group was there from nine in the morning till six in the evening and we were exhausted. This experience opened up many students eyes and gave them a very different perspective of life and the struggles that some people have to go through in order to survive. I was asked as soon as I got back on campus if I would turn around right now and go do the whole thing over again. My answer to that was, "Not until I get some sleep".