We have generated a wealth of solutions—project resources—among ourselves. We have created a vehicle for connecting service and learning in our schools: service learning. We have demonstrated humanitarian outreach to others and concern for the environment.
A Plethora of Outstanding Service Projects
Outstanding service projects that address specific and critical human and environmental needs develop at home and abroad. Somewhere within humanity is the ability to care for others, even those we will never know in countries we will never visit. We even find it in our hearts to care for endangered animals that we would never invite into our homes. Our outreach, which begins as ideas and converts to action, is a powerful force.
Who among us has not heard of a wonderful and needed service project? Perhaps someone we know has created such a project. I supported my daughter, Charlotte, in creating a project in our community. Between the ages of five and seventeen she raised and managed over $60,000 for community-based organizations, creating monthly reports throughout this time for her supporters to share how the funds were spent (charlottescircle.com). She was capable of contributing and was happy to engage in the adult world. Her project touched on the power of the individual sustained commitment, prompting further questions and exploration.
Several years into Charlotte’s project, the director of our United Way office brought the issue of food insecurity in our community to my attention, as periodic canned food drives weren’t enough. When I searched online for other food-garnering models that support food banks, I found one in Florida (inspired by a project in Kentucky), one in Kansas, and one in Georgia. These project models provided enough ideas for us to create an initiative in our community in New York. The term “United States” took on a new meaning in this context as ideas from many states converged in the model we created.
The needs in our community existed in others. We were not alone in facing this challenge, and we could access solutions created by others elsewhere. Americans were doing what they do best—solve problems in existing systems or create new systems. Our unity was palpable.
I collected descriptions of projects that made a difference or created a solution—even part of a solution—for an area of human or environmental need. I started organizing them by topic and contacting project originators, in some cases creating replications with project originators and managers.
One question people ask when coming together to problem solve is, “How are others addressing this need?” Mayors and governors, members of various committees, and others meet to discuss similar challenges and seek solutions others may have already found. On the other end of the spectrum, project originators often seek replication of their work nationwide, knowing that the challenges they have successfully tackled exist elsewhere.
As I continued to organize projects and topic areas in a database, I saw it as a checklist of projects that could be available in all communities. A national checklist of projects would provide solutions that others could replicate. It would even bring community needs—of which we might be unaware—to our attention, along with solution-bearing project models. Such a collection of projects would inspire us as they touch upon our demonstrated ability, our ingenuity, and our commitment to models of solution. They would be “of the people.”
The Depth of Our Problem Solving
I would read about a single service project and be inspired by the work taking place. This inspiration heightened as I gathered projects under specific topics. The quantity of solution making and the variety of approaches became apparent, and solutions seemed more plausible with this information in mind. To share this perspective, I have chosen a single topic to highlight the depth of problem solving among ourselves.
Mentoring Our Youth: Filling the Void
Many adults are mentoring our youth, often restructuring their professional lives to focus exclusively on caring for the welfare of our youth. Commitment, creativity, and flexibility are the typical markings of these mentors. They find the greatest satisfaction in transforming negatives into positives. They often work long hours with little or no pay to achieve the ultimate reward—the rejuvenation of positive life direction in youth.
In the topic of mentoring our youth, the most intense challenge is in situations where gangs have taken over neighborhoods, resulting in violence and instability. Gang leaders know our youth seek inclusion and a sense of family, of belonging; of even more value, our youth have time and energy that can be redirected.
None of us—regardless of where we live—can afford to ignore the extreme outcomes of gang culture. Shades of gang mentality pop up in bullying and cliques, and terrorist organizations work with great similarity to gangs, wielding a wide sphere of influence. Such an infection requires an antidote that will secure health in all our communities.
The solution builders who address the severe stages of this societal illness in the urban trenches can help guide us toward an antidote. Their work suggests ways to strengthen the educational foundation on which youth can build lives positively integrated with their communities.
Service models that mentor where gangs are active are replacing and restoring the growth potential of youth already caught in the web of gangs. These models educate to prevent gang involvement and provide alternatives for youth. The models below come from Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. Commonalities and distinctions exist in these youth mentoring projects created by ourselves as Americans.
Council for Unity—Bob De Sena, Brooklyn, NY, 1975
Youth are empowered to develop nonviolent solutions to violence and bias in their environments. Gang members are gathered to talk and take the lead in finding solutions without violence. The organization works with schools, businesses, youth organizations, law enforcement, and correctional facilities. Safety, unity, and achievement are mission goals that inform curricular programs, training, and interventions. The overwhelming majority of students who participate in their curricular programs go on to college.
Guardian Angels—Curtis Sliwa, NYC, NY, 1979
Inner-city youth are encouraged to take responsibility in cleaning and safeguarding their neighborhoods by patrolling streets, subways, and events. CyberAngels, created in 1995, extends protection to Internet threats, which are difficult to detect.
Boston Ten Point Coalition—Boston, MA, 1992
This ecumenical group of Christian clergy and lay leaders focus on providing a nurturing environment for high-risk youth who manifest violent, callous, or self-destructive behaviors; youth whom other agencies are frequently unable to serve.
Ceasefire—Chicago, IL, 2000
Ceasefire detects and interrupts the spread of violent behavior, using well-trained individuals who have credibility in their communities. These professionals know who has influence, who to talk to, and how to anticipate and de-escalate violent situations. As outreach workers, “interrupters,” and canvassers, they work to resolve conflicts through intervention and mediation and connect those beyond the reach of traditional social systems with resources. CeaseFire takes a public-health approach to public safety in that it views violence as a disease from which we can recover.
Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence—Teny Gross, Providence, RI, 2001
This organization hires ex-offenders to speak from their own experiences and convince young people not to answer the loss of their friends with more shootings and bloodshed. These ex-offenders, trained in violence intervention, work in close partnership with Providence police.
First Response Ministry—Greater Love Tabernacle Church (GLT) Michael Person, William Dickerson, Dorchester, MA, 2001
When a homicide occurs, GLT rushes to the scene to offer support to homicide victims’ families and tough love to those who witnessed or participated in a crime. They work to diffuse tension, plan for funerals, help witnesses come forward, and encourage perpetrators to turn themselves in, emphasizing accountability and preventative education for those not yet caught in the cycle of violence.
Mentoring Today—Whitney Louchheim and Penelope Spain, Washington, D.C., 2005
Boys under age eighteen get help with legal issues, housing, and family relationships before and after their release from jail to ensure successful reintegration into their families and communities. Mentoring Today makes connections with youth four months before their scheduled releases and continues beyond as needed.
Youth Services—Cook County, Chicago, IL 1995
Pretrial and post trial youths not considered dangerous (after a complex screening process) receive alternatives to jail that include home confinement (leaving home only for school), an electronic bracelet monitoring system, and a reporting-center program. Instead of being jailed and stigmatized, these youth can live at home and go to school while spending five hours each evening at a center that provides transportation, a meal, and programming that ranges from current-events discussions and bowling to pet therapy and victim-impact panels. This effort reduces the population in detention; the majority of youth get to court on time and crime-free.
Teen Courts—Over 1,200 teen courts in 49 states
Youth and adult volunteers help with the disposition and sentencing of juveniles and delinquents referred to local youth and teen courts. These courts hold juveniles accountable for their delinquent and criminal behaviors, promote restorative justice principles, and help educate youth about the legal system, incorporating civic and service life lessons.
ROCA—Mary Baldwin, Chelsea, MA, 1988
This program helps young people ages fourteen to twenty-four from a variety of troubled circumstances reengage in society through education, employment, and life-skills programming. They are visited at home, taken to and from school, and provided with a safe environment that includes free dinners, a gym, music labs, and training in cabinetmaking, carpentry, jewelry making, dance, nutrition, and cooking.
While these projects reflect mentoring projects prompted by the presence of gangs and criminal activity, the projects below embody a transition toward mentoring youth with activities to “fill the void” that otherwise could be filled with destructive vices.
Our youth become vulnerable to destructive choices when there is vacant space, when they have not discovered constructive areas of interest to fill out the larger dimension of their lives. Our schools are not enough, and programs for music, theater, and sports are not available nationwide for all youth. These programs as well do not offer sufficient variety or sustained engagement for all our youth. Just like adults, the scope of interest and gift among our youth is highly varied.
Typically, the project topics that follow are based on the personal backgrounds or interest of the projects’ originators. They may come from the perspective of a remedy, a preventative alternative, or simply the desire to share and engage with youth. The projects provide an opportunity for youth to learn and grow and a safe place where they feel dignity and care for their person—a family context. Providing our youth with activities and inclusion with us builds community and protection against negative influences for us all.
The models below come from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore—Luis Rodriguez, Sylmar, CA, 2001
This bookstore has a performance hall and an art and music studio where writers share their work at open mikes and youth can record demo tapes or poetry. Youth are encouraged to replace graffiti with mural painting and learn about Native American rituals as spiritual outlets. It is the only bookstore in the nation’s second-largest Mexican community and also serves as a Chicano cultural center.
Midnight Basketball (MBL)—G. Van Standifer, Glenarden, MD, 1986
League games take place from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., when temptations to engage in crime and drug activity are greatest. The program has proven effective in helping young men develop self-esteem, gain the skills and the drive to finish school, get GEDs, further their education, learn trades, or find employment. It also gives them the self-respect and inner strength to avoid drugs and resist criminal activity.
Tenacity—Ned Eames, Boston, MA, 1999
Eames uses his background in tennis to reach students in danger of dropping out of high school by teaching tennis and literacy. Kids meet three or four times a week for three-hour sessions of tennis and studying English and language arts. Summer sessions run as well. The program’s goal is to strengthen academic performance, and students in the program have a significantly higher high school graduation rate than average in Boston.
Experience Aviation—Barrington Irving, Miami, Florida, 2005
Irving saw the convergence between an industry that needed young talent and kids on the streets with nothing to do. Combining education, entrepreneurship, and his extensive background in aviation, he created a nonprofit learning center that introduces children to the joy of flying.
After School Drill Team—Willie Ellington Bell, Kansas City, MO 2008
When Bell noticed that there were no extracurricular activities at Blenheim Elementary, he created a drill team. The program fosters discipline and has helped with behavioral problems and academics; parents from other schools have requested participation for their children.
9th Street Youth Golf Academy—Charlie Seymour, San Bernardino, CA, 1997
After he retired, Seymour devoted his time and much of his pension to creating a youth golf academy for children in San Bernardino’s low-income areas. The program was to combine academic tutoring with lessons from golf: self-discipline, honesty, self-control, perseverance, and attention to detail. Thirteen acres of donated land were enough to create a three-hole golf course/learning center. Although Seymour died prior to the completion of the academy, his idea and planning still serves as a project model.
GlassRoots Nifty Program—Pat Kettenring, Newark, NJ, 2001
This program offers classes in flameworking, kilnforming, lampworking, casting, and glassblowing at little or no cost for at-risk youth in exchange for volunteering or interning. Students learn patience, teamwork, discipline, and business skills as they progress from making beads to blowing glass. They write business plans for the products they produce, present them to business leaders in the community, and attend art shows to sell their works.
Mural Arts Program—Jane Golden, Philadelphia, PA, 1984
Golden empowered graffiti artists to take active roles in beautifying their neighborhoods by telling their stories and passing on culture and tradition. The Mural Arts Program engages thousands of at-risk children, youth, and adults in free programs that teach transferable life and job skills such as taking personal responsibility, teamwork, and creative problem solving. Their educational programs in prisons and rehabilitation centers use the restorative power of art to break the cycle of crime and violence in communities.
Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)—David Levin and Michael Feinberg, Houston, TX, 1995
KIPP is a national network of open-enrollment and free college-prep public schools. Under contracts signed by students, parents, and teachers, students from low-income families in underserved communities go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, every other Saturday morning, and for an extra month in the summer. In a “no excuses” culture of strict discipline, they earn or lose points toward a weekly “paycheck” that can be cashed in for books or T-shirts at the school store or used toward a weeklong field trip. KIPP has a track record of outstanding high-school graduation rates, and a high percentage of its students go on to college.
Spark Program—Chris Balme and Melia Dicker, San Francisco, CA, 2004
Spark connects volunteer professionals with middle school students from disadvantaged communities in one-on-one workplace apprenticeships. Students identify a “dream job,” apprentice with a mentor in that line of work, and take a leadership class that connects the apprenticeship with learning in school. As students explore the school-to-career connection, the relevance of their education is strengthened, motivating students to work hard to achieve their dreams. The overwhelming majority of students who apprentice go on to college.
The Three Doctors Foundation—Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt, George Jenkins, Newark, NJ, 2002
As teenage boys growing up on tough, inner-city streets, they made a pact to stick together, go to college, graduate, and become doctors. Serving as inspirational models of achievement, they stress qualities of self-reliance and inner strength and a strategy of surrounding yourself with like-minded people with similar aspirations. Their premise is that children need to see models that support their aspirations.
YouthBuild—Dorothy Stoneman, East Harlem, NY, 1978
When Stoneman asked low-income teens what they would do for their communities, they said they would take back abandoned houses from drug dealers, restore them, and give them to homeless families. Today, nationwide, YouthBuild students work full-time on developing workplace skills and completing GEDs or high school graduation requirements. This program integrates employment, housing, crime prevention, leadership development, and community service as students learn construction trades, landscaping, facilities management, and other skills. After up to twenty-four months of training, students head to college, jobs, or both.
Knitting Together a Community—Judith Symonds, Maplewood, NJ, 2002
Originally conceived as a winter recess activity, this program continued throughout the year. Elementary-school children as young as six participate. Students make friendships as they mentor their peers in knitting skills with the support of adults. The program teaches children success through persistence, concentration, control, follow-through, and mastery while improving fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Needle Arts Mentoring Program—Marilyn North and Bonnie Lively, Seaside, OR, 1997
Created for at-risk middle school students, the program promotes problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. Caring, one-on-one relationships develop between adults and youth as they work on needle arts. Afghan squares for donation to charities are often first projects.
The foregoing examples from my personal collection, no doubt, fall short of the whole of projects in the topic area of mentoring youth, but they illustrate the depth of models in just one area. A national community checklist of projects organized by topics would allow us to see the wealth of our resources along with specific steps we could take to address topics in our communities. For this particular topic, city officials might focus on programs to address the presence of gangs, while some senior citizens might find inspiration to start knitting groups with youth. Others may join with youth to create new projects based on personal interests. The response may be eclectic or ordered—the more influences, the greater the influx of health and inspiration in our communities.
Service Learning: The Inclusion of Our Children
In the early years of Charlotte’s project, I often wondered why community service projects of value were not more widely replicated. I discovered we had a service learning coordinator for the state of New York, who told me service learning was, in fact, what I had been doing with Charlotte in her project and suggested I attend some service learning conferences to interact with others involved in this work.
I met students and teachers immersed in significant service to their communities as part of their educational curricula. The teachers found service learning to be a manageable part of their teaching load, and they were inspired by the increased motivation among students in their classrooms and personally gratified by the outcomes in their communities. The work was enjoyable, not burdensome.
Inspired by such encounters, I designed a course for first-year college students: “The Human Spirit in Action: Service Learning,” in which we created Food2Share, a service learning project that addressed local food insecurity. We replicated components from other food-garnering projects, incorporated a service learning structure, and collected over 4,600 pounds of perishable food in the first year.
What Is Service Learning?
Service learning is exactly what the term implies: a merger of service work with learning. Teachers identify specific curricular objectives to be addressed through meeting a community need; they design lesson plans based on the subject areas they teach.
Service learning involves four simple structural components to ensure learning through real-life problem solving, responsible endeavor, leadership opportunities, reflection, and developing ongoing relationships and projects in a community near or in another part of the world:
- Preparation: The first step involves identifying a significant community need, dialoguing with community-based organizations or personnel in positions of knowledge and authority, gathering information, and planning a problem-solving approach that includes multiple perspectives and sustainable outcomes.
- Action:The action phase, as determined in the preparation stage, may involve direct contact with community members in need; indirect work with organizations whose staff work directly with clients; or advocacy to stimulate new perspectives, actions, and outcomes. (Community service, in contrast to service learning, typically involves only the action component determined by someone in charge of the community-based organization or service event.)
- Reflection: Reflection on outcomes and problem-solving decisions made in the preparation phase stimulate critical thinking. Projections in the preparation stage have now become concrete, often implying new goals or direction for future work. Reflection can involve writing, journaling, or class discussion that explores how well the community need is being met, future problem-solving ideas, sustainability, and how the need and problem-solving effort relates to one’s own life, other communities, or the broader world.
- Celebration: Celebrating the outcome of a project with a larger community audience strengthens recognition of project value and provides inspiration to continue building on the project success. Celebrations can include school-wide assemblies, news articles, radio broadcasts, flyers, and posters. Ongoing projects with yearly celebrations that track outcomes demonstrate sustainability.
Service learning projects create solutions for community needs and experiential learning for students. One of the striking aspects of service learning is that youth seem almost driven to learn because it’s fun when it’s attached to real life; they want to gain the necessary skills to carry out activities and work with peers and teachers. Service learning strengthens the desire to learn and the sense of one’s person in relation to others and the world, and this provides a variety of ways to “shine” beyond traditional academic assessment methods. Success is a positive experience; failure requires additional problem-solving effort.
Service learning projects stimulate cooperative learning that provides enrichment and variety for an educational system based primarily on individual achievement. The youth I have observed seem to have very little if any interest in external praise from adults. Their attention is totally focused on the work itself. Being absorbed by a task and meeting a genuine need are fulfilling. Students get to know each other while discovering their individual strengths. Student learning in this context is not burdensome, and motivation runs high, creating a positive learning environment for everyone that spills over into other academic subjects. Terry Pickeral, president of Cascade Educational Consultants, senior education consultant to Special Olympics Project UNIFY, and former consultant to the Education Commission of the States, puts it this way:
A variety of research studies have concluded that quality service learning has a decidedly positive impact on students. They demonstrate that this phenomenon leads to improved academic performance, gains in knowledge of the service provided, growth in higher order thinking, expanded social and civic responsibility, increased acceptance of cultural diversity, and enhanced self-esteem. Ultimately, it is engagement, not mere exposure, that counts.
Service learning projects join curricular learning components with civic engagement. Government officials are seeking solutions for community needs and ways to support the education of our youth. Teachers are seeking cooperation and motivation from youth in the classroom. Parents are seeking signs that their children are engaging in their education—that they are learning and happy. Service learning meets all these objectives.
Food2Share: A Service Learning Project
After a presentation Charlotte gave to our local United Way, the director remarked to me on how she wished there was something her organization could do about the food problem in our community. Like many community members, I was aware of periodic canned food drives, holiday meals, and the occasional donation one could make at a grocery store checkout, but her comment revealed these initiatives were not meeting this community need.
Unsure of a solution, I searched online for models and found a perishable food-garnering program active in over 100 schools in Tampa Bay, Florida. The program, started by David Levitt as part of his bar mitzvah preparation, received its inspiration from USA Harvest, which originated in Kentucky. I talked with David’s mother, staff at Tampa Bay schools and Tampa Bay Harvest, and with staff at other perishable food–reclamation programs in Atlanta and Kansas City.
With materials from these programs in hand and a group of college students I was leading in a course entitled “The Human Spirit in Action: Service Learning,” we began to organize replication in our community. Working with corporate food service, restaurants, two colleges, and our public schools, and adapting to overcome significant challenges, we created a comprehensive service learning program: Food2Share. The basic outline of how Food2Share works in a K–12 district-wide model is as follows:
- Students learn what foods can be donated and those that must be thrown out. (For example, unopened bags of chips or carrot sticks are acceptable, but opened ones are not.)
- Coolers near waste collection areas in school cafeterias allow students to separate food for donation from waste.
- Food collected goes to food banks that weigh and record it and report back to the schools.
- In addition to food contributed by students, food service leftovers frozen in good-quality, gallon-freezer bags become a major contribution to food banks. While food-service personnel work to reduce excess food, they can’t always predict food consumption. They, however, can freeze leftovers for volunteer transport to the food bank.
The joint efforts of students and staff create community bonding that affects morale in the school environment; everyone is able to find a role in solution making. This is how the service learning structure played out in the college course:
The preparation phase involved researching materials that were integral to the design of other models:
- EPA: Food Donation: Feed People—Feed People, Not Landfills www.epa.gov
- Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act www.feedingamerica.org
- USDA: A Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery www.usda.gov
- Food service guidelines from the Tampa Bay–area public schools
The director of our local food bank discussed the materials and models we had found in class. He was so inspired by the possibilities the students were bringing to help solve the problem of food insecurity that he wanted to work with the students and began attending the class. I realized my students were functioning as volunteer staff furthering his problem-solving efforts.
The goal in the beginning stages was to replicate food service donations as done in Tampa Bay–area schools: when the last student is served, food service staff freezes excess food in good-quality freezer bags until transport by parent volunteers. A meeting with a representative from our department of health confirmed Tampa Bay’s food service guidelines.
Some of my students approached the college’s food service director, who conferred with the corporate office and scheduled a meeting with kitchen staff, who were eager to help. They offered suggestions to create work flow for this component. An e-mail to all professors quickly produced a volunteer pool for transport. One student created a volunteer schedule and an e-mail distribution list among the volunteers to sustain communication and food transportation. Excess prepared food from the college kitchen began to flow to our food bank.
Some students solicited restaurants, and the owner of one exceeded their expectations. Elena’s Sweet Indulgence was a small café that served salads, warm entrees, bread, and desserts, and its owner started donating leftovers at the end of each day that she put in individual serving–size microwavable containers. When the food bank director learned of her contribution, he told the students the food was potentially lifesaving, as many older residents were not inspired to make meals of canned food, while this food was appetizing.
Other students approached the public school food service with the food service donation model from Tampa Bay schools. The director of our public school food service committed to the project after conferring with the K–12 department at the corporate office. Everything was set to go for the following fall in our public schools, including a donation of freezer bags from a store.
Change, a real-life element, jostled the project when our public school food service director retired that summer. A new class of first-year students was ready to build on the work of the previous year’s students, but the new public school food service director for our community informed us that the program could not happen. Our public schools happened to be under contract with the same corporate entity as our college food service; this corporation had separate offices for different areas of service. Although the corporate college food service department supported the project, as did the corporate community relations office, the individual in charge of the corporate K–12food service would not support the project and aggressively took steps to shut down our efforts.
We were never able to get this component off the ground in our public schools. We could find no difference between the college and public school kitchens, as staff trained in food handling were operating both. Our college food service continued to make regular donations, but my students were predictably dismayed by what they perceived to be poor role modeling in the adult professional world and that a single individual could block the logical and positive flow of giving from so many to those in need.
Nonetheless, I was working with youth—resilient college students—who were pursuing a course in service learning. We had an agenda to problem solve. Despite this one stumbling block, we still had support in the community; everyone involved had been perplexed by this turn of events, including our superintendent and principals.
Up to this point, both classes of first-year college students had been pursuing food service donations. We turned our attention to the portion of David Levitt’s project that addressed unopened milks from students in the cafeteria and extended this to wrapped snacks and whole fruits, as suggested by our food bank director.
We worked with our superintendent, principals, teachers, students, parents, and lunch aides. Everyone got onboard, restoring our faith in community and possibilities for solutions. Our children were eager for inclusion, and our lunch aides felt their presence in the cafeteria increased in value. Our superintendent told us the program supported his work in representing the outcomes of education to the community.
This class of college students took charge of meetings with the department of health, school principals, and parent teacher organization members to generate volunteers to transport food. They made posters for school cafeterias and presented the model to students at school assemblies. Kindergartners took on the task of putting up the Food2Share signs in cafeterias, and older students took charge of transferring food from the cafeteria collection bin to a refrigerated cooler. As our children learned, they stepped forward to contribute. They were an inspirational antidote to the corporate rejection, bringing immediacy of action and purity of vision.
As my college students spent time with cafeteria aides and parents, they returned with quotes in their journals, including these we received from lunch aides:
- “There is so much food waste. I’ve seen it for years, and it’s always upset me.”
- “It’s a relief to know the food is not going in the garbage.”
- “This is a great idea!”
A parent transport volunteer gave us a telling comment as well: “I have really enjoyed working with this project and feel it is so needed. My son is getting a grasp of what it is and what it does. In a day and age where kids have too much, something like this shows them it’s not that way for everyone.”
A sixth-grade teacher used Food2Share as the topic for a reflective writing assignment that involved writing about the Food2Share program. The following are excerpts from the students’ personal responses:
- “The program prevents us from throwing away perfectly good food, and it goes to the people who need it more than we do.”
- “It is the easiest way for a person in elementary school to help someone.”
- “I’m glad our school is participating in the Food2Share program because it’s an opportunity to help make Oneonta a better place to live.”
- “A lot of children give food every day, and I think that this is really something to be proud of! Everyone at our school loves this program.”
- “I think the Food2Share program is a great way to save food and give other people the food that you were going to throw out. I learned you shouldn’t throw away food you are not going to eat! Save the food for someone who needs it.”
- “I think this program should be in schools all around the United States. I hope that after you read this you will be raising food with the Food2Share program.”
- “Anyone can make a difference. Food2Share just makes sharing a little easier!”
- “I believe Food2Share is one of the best programs that have come to our town. We are donating clean and fresh food to our fellow citizens. It makes me proud to know I might be helping to save someone’s life or keep them healthier by giving food I’m not going to eat.”
As outcomes took shape, inspiration grew among my students. A service learning structure was forming for students in the elementary schools. We had incorporated preparation, action, and reflection, and we headed for celebration. As often happens in service learning projects, more ideas surfaced. The food bank began to send monthly donation statistics, broken down for each school and the college.
We also received responses from the staff at the food bank:
- “Milk is rare. It’s wonderful to get and a lot of people ask for it, and we can’t provide it usually.”
- “The milk is fantastic—much better than powdered milk. It’s a great present. Please tell the children the families are thrilled.”
- “It’s been impossible for us to do fresh milk. There were 200 families this month, 579 individuals.”
A fifth-grade teacher requested the food donation statistics for use in a graphing unit students were studying in math. After several days of graphing exercises, students explored a website for graph making. After the students made a graph with only their school’s data, the teacher had students try to figure out how to add the donation data from the other schools and told us, “They did this with no problem. The students loved it and asked to go back to do more.”
Another teacher offered to have her students create an updatable graph for the cafeteria. One teacher weighed in with the comment, “I never thought about it; we collect food at certain times of the year, but the need is year ’round.” In addition, the rural health director told us, “This program puts a face on food insecurity that a centralized system can’t. There are more relationships.”
A school-wide assembly at the beginning of the year was the perfect time to share the previous year’s outcomes and kick off the start of the new year. Food bank representatives shared the need in the community and the value of the students’ actions and contributions. A newspaper article and radio broadcast informed the community of the contribution students were making to address food insecurity in the community.
Greater awareness resulted; community members called to ask if they could donate leftovers from concession stands or catered events. Food bank representatives, trained in food handling, were able to provide the support required to make this happen.
Some of my college students, faced with significant leftovers from a weekend event, made calls to get the food expeditiously transported to our homeless shelter because the food bank was closed. Their classroom learning had made its way out into the larger framework of their lives, and their excitement for having recognized this opportunity was overwhelmingly present as they shared this outcome in class.
In our community, with four elementary schools, one middle school, a college food service, and a restaurant contributing to the formation of Food2Share, we collected over 16,000 pounds in four years. Although food insecurity was the originating focus for Food2Share, the program also diverted a significant amount of organic waste from our landfills. The value of service work taken into the educational arena provided real-life experiential learning that met a real community need.