Home>Features>Community Service Knows No Borders: The Benefits of Volunteering Abroad

Duel major in justice studies and information technology, Kelsey Haskins, class of 2019, is studying abroad this semester at Florence University of the Arts. (image credit: Breana Diaz)

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Community Service Knows No Borders: The Benefits of Volunteering Abroad

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I was afforded the opportunity to start my volunteering at St. James Church in Florence, Italy, on September 21, through the Community Outreach Program at Florence University of the Arts. My volunteering happens from 9-11 a.m. every Thursday morning at the church’s food bank.

For the first hour we mingle with the other volunteers, have cappuccinos and croissants and prepare for the city’s citizens who are in need to stop in. From 10-11 a.m., we have people who signed up throughout the week arrive a couple at a time. They sign their name and get their food bags and either two apples, a banana or some other fruit.

Our duties as volunteers consist of packing food bags that include two packs of crackers, one can of beans or tuna, one wedge of cheese, one juice box and one plum cake. Not only do recipients get a bag of food and fruit of some sort, but clothes and household items as well, all for free.

Most weeks we give away clothes. Therefore, we also sort clothes from 9-10 a.m. and then bring them upstairs in shifts so that there are new clothes along with the clothes that have been picked through. The citizens take as many clothes and shoes as they please for their family and for themselves.

We have clothes ranging from kids to teens (boys/girls) to men and women, along with shoes of all different sizes. As an organization, we also give away diapers and feminine products to women who need them. We even give away toys for the children that come.

The best part about volunteering at St. James Church isn’t the fact that I am volunteering or getting community service hours. The best part about volunteering is becoming a member of the church and a member of their family.

All the women and the few men that volunteer there have been doing this for years and years. Some are Italian and some are from the U.S. (New England included) and some are even from the United Kingdom. Not only are there adults volunteering at the church, but other students from all over the United States that are studying abroad in Florence.

It has been so amazing getting to know all the wonderful people and having the opportunity to become a part of the community of Florence in ways I never anticipated. I am going into my fourth week volunteering at St. James, and I never sigh when getting up early to walk 30 minutes to the church or even taking time out of my day and my study abroad to help others.

I love getting up early and starting my day at the same time as the Italians. And I love being able to really enjoy the company of people that used to be strangers who now know my name and I know theirs. I love just taking time out of my day to serve and help the Florence community.

It is an experience that I’m going to treasure forever, and I’ve gained so many friends through this already, and we are only going into the second month. I am excited to see what the rest of the semester brings!