Sunday Suppers… All Week
December 17th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
There’s feeding the hungry, and then there’s feeding the spirit. This week we visit the Sunday Suppers program in West Kensington. These weekly sit down meals provide not only nourishment, but also community. Families learn that coming together at the table for meals provides kids with valuable skills that improve school performance as well as daily life.
In the West Kensington Ministry kitchen things are heating up. There’s an aromatic Puerto Rican roast pork, eggplant, and spices simmer while homemade soup is ladled out. In the dinning room 25 tables are set and ready for families. “We ask them when’s the last time you sat down to dinner, in most cases they cannot remember the last time. Some don’t have table and chairs. Some of them don’t have that as part of their life, and they like it, they feel that it’s of value.” The value, as Linda Samost founder and Executive Director of Sunday Suppers program points out, is in modeling a family dinner. It’s well-documented that kids who have family meals do better in school and in life. Samost says there are two rules to foster healthy eating and communication, “you cannot use any electronics at the table, your cellphones have to be off. The other rule is you have to try everything. Nine times out of ten people will say I don’t eat that, and they try it, and they take more on their plate.”
Samost was moved to provide the weekly sit-down dinners after reading Inquirer Staff Writer Alfred Lubrano’s series on hunger naming this congressional district one of the hungriest in the nation. But beyond providing food, the program offers classes in cooking and health. Replicating sit-down meals at home is also emphasized because, says Samost, access to fresh food doesn’t mean it’s consumed. “If you don’t have that confidence in the kitchen, you can put all the fresh vegetables you want in a farmers’ market and people just don’t know what to do with them.”
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Even in the few months the program has been running, the impact is real. Johanna Ransom participates with her five children, “before the program, Sunday, we pretty much either ate out, or just ate whatever was in the refrigerator everybody would eat whatever they wanted to eat, and not sitting down together. It’s completely different now and we have fresh vegetables every single day and the kids have no problem with it at all. So that’s pretty much the best thing I like about the program.” Madeline Neris is now program liaison, but experienced the power of the program as a participant, “we had a loss. My husband had passed away. And this was a way for me to reconnect with my children and bring them to the table and just have some conversation. We did need help with healthier eating as well. I have a son now, Kevin, who has lost 45 pounds. We are all making changes. We are doing some walking, and getting into the program.”
As dinner winds down, clean up begins, and the adults get ready to go to cooking class while the kids have activity time. The West Kensington Ministry provides support as well as space. Reverend Adan Mairena has worked in many diverse communities and believes all moms want the same thing. “They want their kids to be healthy, a good education, they want them to have opportunities, they want them to be in a neighborhood where there are opportunities and options for them to succeed and to pass it on.”