Last semester, students in Michael Ferrier’s Literature and Cultural Politics of Food course at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy had the chance to start working with Sunday Suppers, a local organization that brings healthy meals and food education to families.
Ferrier says the main goal of the elective course was for students to think more about how food functions in their daily lives.
One unit on hunger in America focused on the issues surrounding food access.
For a week, Ferrier asked his students to eat food that could only be purchased at convenience stores like a 7-Eleven or Wawa.
“One of the goals from that exercise was to have students think about how that affected their understanding of the working poor in Philadelphia and what the working poor are often forced to eat and provide for their families based on where they are geographically in the city,” he said.
Students researched organizations that were battling food insecurity in Philadelphia and ones that aligned with some of the values that they identified in the course.
Students found and contacted the organization Sunday Suppers and designed a service-learning experience.
In December and January, a few nights a week, the students travelled to Kensington to help provide dinners to families at two different locations. During the course of the dinners the families learned about health education and nutrition.
Senior Lauren McCormack says she and her fellow students stayed busy while volunteering, pitching in with everything from setting tables to doing dishes.
Student Lily Casebeer recalls a dinner where she helped make smoothies for children as adults learned more about healthy drinks and how to produce healthier meals for their kids.
Students organized a drive to collect appliances and other kitchen items that could be used to prepare food and promote healthy eating at home.
“Interacting with the families and learning hands on what they do there was unforgettable…I walked away with a happy feeling knowing I made a difference and the smiles of the families are forever plastered in my mind,” says Neema Herbert, who also volunteered at the organization.
Ferrier says he would love to foster a partnership with Sunday Suppers for the next installment of the class.
“I really believe in their mission and I think that it was a super positive experience for our kids. Food insecurity is only one issue of a pretty large national discussion around food so I can imagine students in the next version of this course designing a service-learning experience having to do with some other food-related issue,” says Ferrier.
Embedding service learning into the course is a model Ferrier hopes to continue.
“I think service learning can help guide kids to becoming better people.”