Feeding People Who are Homeless In Washington D.C.

James Hubert Blake High School, Montgomery, Erinn Rigney, (301) 879-1346, www.BlakeSGA.org

After researching the various social service needs in the District of Columbia (DC) area, the student government association discovered a deficit of prepared food for those in need and decided to serve the hungry by making sandwiches for a local soup kitchen. After planning the event and coordinating the details, 100 students made more than 750 sandwiches for DC Central Kitchen. Throughout the entire project, the students who participated reflected on how their efforts were making a difference by providing something too many go without: a meal. The project illustrated the teamwork and spirit to serve of James Hubert Blake High School students.

Best Practice 1: What recognized community need was met by your project (e.g. health, education, environmental or public safety need)?

Health was the community need that we addressed through this service-learning project.

As one of the identifiable leadership organizations at James Hubert Blake High School, the student government association (SGA) organizes a range of service projects throughout the year. When planning a project for the winter, the major needs of the DC Metro area were considered. After reviewing the service projects that school-sponsored clubs were planning, discovering statistics on hunger for the DC area, and participating in a lesson on homelessness from the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, the SGA decided to focus on the needs of people who are homeless. Astounded by the numbers of impacted individuals, a service project was planned where sandwiches would be made for individuals in need in our area. This proved to be a population of which most of our students were not aware. Food for this group was identified as critically important need during the cold months of winter.

Persons who were homeless and hungry living in the DC area were helped by this SGA Blake High School project. More than 750 sandwiches were made for those coming to the DC Central Kitchen. This project eased the hunger of others while confirming high school students can address real needs in the community.

Best Practice 2: How was the project connected to school curriculum (e.g. what course outcomes were met and/or how did the project reinforce or enhance student academic learning)?

The SGA assumes a large leadership role in the school. Assessed indicators throughout the curriculum are used as a foundation for the service-learning projects. Statistics on homelessness and hunger in DC were analyzed to identify the greatest need. Using that data, information on the types of food that homeless shelters most need was collected. Research indicated that shelters were in most need of food stuffs like sandwiches. Sandwiches are easy to transport and distribute to those in need. The skills that were required and developed throughout the project were ones most often promoted in core high school classes. Written and oral communication skills were emphasized when food banks and shelters were contacted by students to share the project goals. Academic learning was enhanced by applying skills learned in the classroom to real-world situations in the community.

Best Practice 3: How did you reflect on your experience throughout the project?

During the project, we reflected in a variety of ways. In preparation, students looked at data from the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless and did a simulation on homelessness using realistic budget data for Montgomery County. This allowed students to step inside the lives of those less fortunate individuals in our local area. While making the sandwiches, time was taken to consider the people we were serving, the quality of their lives and their hopes and dreams. This project reflected the spirit of concern and teamwork that exists at James Hubert Blake High School. In evaluating the project, we found it to have been an overwhelming success; therefore, a second sandwich making project was planned for the spring! We hoped to attract more students and were looking for additional ways students could serve individuals who are homeless in our community. Our goal is to make this project an annual school-wide event and to enlarge it to include information and workshops on the prevalence of homelessness in our area.

Best Practice 4: How did students take leadership roles and take responsibility for the success of the project?

Students in the SGA and the Leadership class took on the majority of the responsibilities for planning and executing this project. Following discussion and research students chose the service project and the nonprofit organization, DC Central Kitchen. Students identified the types of sandwiches to be made and created the shopping list. They created signs identifying a process for setting-up and cleaning up. They purchased additional supplies in order to make full use of the time allowed. This was a student-directed and student-owned project. Throughout the activity, students encouraged other students to get involved. As a result, involved students felt empowered and appreciated. They were serving and learning!

Best Practice 5: What community partners did you work with on this project (e.g. non-profits, civic organizations, business that provided donations, etc.)?

In preparation for the service-learning activity, information about hunger and local food banks was explored. DC Central Kitchen in Washington DC is a soup kitchen that daily serves those in need. The SGA donated all of the food supplies and students contributed their time, talents and enthusiasm.

Best Practice 6: How did you prepare and plan ahead for the project?

The SGA worked out the details: why to make the sandwiches, where to make the sandwiches, when to make the sandwiches, what sandwiches to make and how to deliver the sandwiches. The last day of final exam week in January (17th) was chosen as the action day because students would have completed their exams. It was organized to allow as many students to participate as possible.

After planning the details, publicizing the event, and shopping for supplies, a goal of 500 sandwiches was set. The day of the project the cafeteria was set up awaiting the students, with a hope that 20-30 students would participate. When 100 students came through the cafeteria doors to get involved, we were very surprised and happy. Donning gloves and rolling up their sleeves, 800 sandwiches were made by Blake High School students for the consumers of DC Central Kitchen. Students went out to purchase more supplies because they wanted to continue! It was a wonderful display of students and faculty working together to help those in need. Overall, the project was a success. The DC Central Kitchen staff was appreciative of our efforts and they assured us that many people would have some food that day as a result of our project. In terms of support, the students came out full force to help in the project and we instilled a sense of community as students of all grades and backgrounds happily worked so others would have a meal.

Best Practice 7: What knowledge and skills did students develop through this project?

Students gained a huge reward from this experience. Not only did they learn firsthand the value of teamwork but they also were able to see how hard work and determination can reap great benefits for themselves and others. The smiles on their faces as they stood by their boxes of sandwiches spoke volumes about how worthwhile this experience was for them. They gained the experience and skills necessary to plan a project from start to finish using analytical and evaluative techniques. Students also utilized interpersonal skills to communicate in writing and over the phone with organizations. Overall, they developed the ability to plan, effectively communicate and promote a project from start to finish while demonstrating initiative, cooperation, leadership, teamwork, and full participation.