This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
EAST WHITELAND — The Great Hall at Immaculata University was filled with the smell of fresh soup as people filed in to taste the multitude of soups donated from people and restaurants from around Chester County.
“Empty Bowls is a national effort to raise awareness about hunger in the United States,” said Melanie Kisthardt, the Service Learning English 107 professor at Immaculata. “We have tons of advertising about hunger abroad and very little acknowledgement that people are hungry in this country.”
In order to help raise awareness in Chester County, Kisthardt took her English Composition class and turned it into service learning last year.
Since she also volunteers at the West Chester Food Cupboard, she brought the two together.
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“Students will volunteer in the community, but they also learn about issues that they’re researching,” Kisthardt said. “They were researching food insecurity. In addition to reading all these articles about it, they would go down to the food cupboard and would witness what we do.”
Many of the students have never been to a food cupboard before and because of that, had formed a certain perception of people who went to a food cupboard.
Part of what Kisthardt enjoys is seeing that perception change in her students.
“When they go to the cupboard, they see all sorts of people who are taking advantage of the services of the food cupboard,” she said. “A lot of these people are working really hard, but they just don’t have enough to make it through the month or they earn just slightly more than what would make them eligible for food stamps.
“We have all kinds of people. It’s important for them to see that. The stereotype is there are just certain people who always need stuff, but they’re our neighbors and they live right near us, right here in Chester County.”
Not only that, but the students never before realized how much work went into running a food cupboard, but they quickly learned.
“It was life changing,” said Lydia Bundy, a student in Kisthardt’s class. “It was awesome to see all the work they put into it and it is a lot of work. I was tired, but you’re learning and you’re making a difference at the same time. That’s what I like about the class.”
Kisthardt believes having her class complete service work in addition to the classroom work makes each one a better writer and a better person.
“It really does help them write better papers because they’re not just reading about stuff in the abstract,” she said
Student Mamako Johnson echoed her professor’s sentiments.
“It’s perfect firsthand research to our papers and essays that we have to do for class,” she said. “It’s really amazing because it’s easy to just sit there and listen to your teacher lecture. To go out there and feel it and see it for yourself, you become a stronger writer when you go out there and actually experience what you’re talking about. You become almost like an expert. It makes you a better person outside of the classroom also to give back and help. It’s really beneficial.”
The students also helped with the Empty Bowls event by helping serve the donated soups and bread, putting together a power-point presentation and the brochures placed out on the tables in the Great Hall.
On top of the donated soups — coming from places such as Iron Hill and 4 Dogs — and break from Le Bus Bakery, gift baskets and gift cards were also donated from business around the county to raffle off as another way to raise money.
“The main thing is, we’re able to raise some money for the food cupboard,” Kisthardt said. “We have food. Everybody in this county donates so much food that we’re up to the roof with cans and boxes of pasta. That’s marvelous, but we need to keep the lights on and pay the mortgage, so an event like this contributes something different.”