Travel journalist and Crystal blogger Katie Jackson has enjoyed – and written here about – one life-changing experience after another during the Northwest Passage journey aboard Crystal Serenity. This week, as the voyage re-enters New England and prepares to conclude in New York City, she traded polar ice for pitching in at the Greater Boston Food Bank participating in the “You Care, We Care” philanthropic adventures. The complimentary excursion program allows Crystal’s savvy guests to give back to the communities they visit. Katie learned firsthand how the shared camaraderie guests find while helping out makes the program so popular.
The sounds of forklifts backing up and pallets being broken down echo off the walls of the 117,000-square-foot warehouse. Usher’s “Yeah” blasts over the loudspeakers. At first, the choice of music seems odd. But then I realize its fast tempo is motivating—setting a productive pace for the work we have to do. And there is a lot of it.
How did I go from sipping a double-shot nonfat cappuccino in Crystal Serenity’s Palm Court to swimming in a sea of squash in an industrial area in Boston’s South End? Crystal Cruises’ You Care, We Care voluntourism excursion program. Today I was one of 13 Crystal guests who spent the afternoon volunteering at the food bank. “Did they warn you the red coats were coming?” one guest asked the locals when we arrived. His joke, referring to our bright red expedition parkas, was the perfect icebreaker and the laughter set the mood for the rest of the day.
The Greater Boston Food Bank works with 550 partner agencies, mainly food pantries, to distribute more than 50 million lbs. of food annually throughout Eastern Massachusetts. It feeds 90,000 people each week. According to the volunteer orientation video, one in nine local residents doesn’t know where they’ll get their next meal. If it comes from the Boston Food Bank, there’s a good chance it will be fresh and nutritious.
“At least 25% of the food we get and give out is fresh produce and fish,” said the director of the volunteer program. In fact, we would be sorting some of it during our shift. “You’re lucky the trucks didn’t bring watermelon today,” she continued, “We have something a bit more manageable.”
Ten minutes later, elbows deep in a ball pit of acorn squash, I understood how lucky we were. Unloading and sorting the squash, which came in hot tub-sized bins was exhausting.
Every volunteer broke a sweat. Every volunteer felt new muscles in their backs. And every volunteer, including the guest who had just gotten a manicure in Crystal Serenity’s spa, found dirt under the fingernails at the end of the day.
The only negativity from a guest came when the clock struck 3:30 p.m., signaling the end of the shift. The floor supervisor thanked us and told us we were done for the day. Looking around at a stack of empty boxes and one more bin of squash that needed to be sorted, the guest said aloud what all of us were thinking. Without stopping to wipe the sweat from her brow or take a sip of water, she stated, “I can’t stop now. I’m like a machine! And I’m having too much fun.” It was the guest with the manicure. Pleasantly surprised, the supervisor smiled and gladly let us load one more forklift. Off the clock, of course.
Crystal’s ‘You Care. We Care’ excursions are offered year-round on a wide array of select voyages throughout the world. Learn more about how you can make a difference in the communities explored on our luxury vacations.