One of the things I’m working on for work is the possibility of including a service learning component to each of the English 101 classes. Since our goals are information literacy, it makes sense that students could get information from a variety of places, including their own experiences in the world. To that end, I’ve been having my students read up on hunger and issues surrounding food in the DC area. Last week, I organized three excursions with students to sites around the city where we volunteered for 2-3 hours.
SOME (So Others Might Eat)–This organization does a variety of good things. My students were interested in the food kitchen aspect of this project. We left campus at 6:15 and went downtown to serve breakfast to people who came to the soup kitchen at 7:15. It was an incredible experience for my students (and for me). We served 400 meals that morning to 358 men and 40 women. Some people came in with their possessions. There was a highchair available, indicating that sometimes it gets used. A woman schooled one of my students on how he should mop the floor. Some of the other volunteers were White House interns, families, and retired folks.
DC Central Kitchen–This is a community kitchen where they prep 7,000 meals a day to send to senior centers, food kitchens, after school programs, and other needy places. They also do job training to help people develop culinary careers. I took four students to a morning shift. I cut onions for 1.5 hours. After the first 20 minutes, it didn’t hurt so bad. Mostly my students we’re impressed with this, but I was. I’d never been in an industrial kitchen, so that was fascinating to see the big vats for boiling food and tossing salads. Also, though, I think it’s good for my students to see people getting back on their feet as experts in something. So priceless to see Georgetown Law students told that they’re not cutting onions small enough!
Capital Area Food Bank–This one could have been good, but it was mostly a disaster. I didn’t organize my students. I left it for them to sign themselves up, I signed myself up and then I provided a ride. That mean when it all came down to the end, I only took one student with me. She was late to meet me, so I almost went by myself. When we got there we joined a tour of the warehouse. It was really interesting, and especially since Mark Winne actually talks about this place in Closing the Food Gap as a good example of a food bank. We sorted cans and stocked shelves for a while to prepare for the week ahead as people came to “shop” at the food bank. We didn’t get to see it, but when people come to get food, there is produce in addition to the canned goods. A deaf fraternity was volunteering Saturday too!
I’ve learned several good things about this endeavor, and I think it’s going to be great for students (and for these organizations) if we can figure out how to scale it up. A couple of things I’d like to try include adding a farm to this. There’s a non-profit farm down by Mt. Vernon that runs a mobile farmer’s market to low-income areas. One thing I learned is that students from the city already think they know about poverty and hunger, so working on a farm would be radical to them, whereas the suburban and rural students need to go into town and see the challenges there.