Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

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Good food

Students cook to feed local need

RS172206_Cooking Night_002-scrOn a recent Wednesday night, music wafted through the kitchen of Emerson Dining Hall and slipped beneath the conversation and laughter of students preparing a meal together.

The relaxed-but-focused vibe seemed reminiscent of a family kitchen, which was fitting considering that the students were cooking to serve members of Wheaton’s extended community who rely on a nearby soup kitchen.

Caitlin Pieri ’17, the social justice intern for the Office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility (SSSR), coordinated the evening, which involved preparing 50 meals to give to the Thursday Night Food n' Friends Soup Kitchen, which is sponsored by the Attleboro Area Interfaith Collabrative (formerly known as the Attleboro Area Council of Churches). This was just one of several cooking nights that Wheaton students have participated in.

Scott O’Rourke, dining services general manager, provided and coordinated the staff to assist with the cooking and storage of food, which was paid for by SSSR. The meals were delivered to the Attleboro soup kitchen on Thursday, March 30, and served by Wheaton volunteers. The soup kitchen serves residents who are homeless or who need help for various reasons.

Under the supervision of Aramark executive chef Adam Pagan, several Wheaton students spent a couple of hours creating a meal composed of a garden salad, roasted vegetables and chicken cacciatore.

RS172190_Cooking Night_018-scrThe reason we do cooking nights is to help relieve some of the vast need of the soup kitchen,” said Pieri. “Kathy Jaaskelainen and a small number of volunteers run the soup kitchen each week all year, which is a huge responsibility and requires a large amount of resources. This also provides Wheaton students with the opportunity to get out in the local community and engage with some of the larger social justice issues that are an important aspect of the curriculum and values at Wheaton.”

Jaaskelainen, who coordinates the Thursday Night Food n' Friends Soup Kitchen, says that Wheaton students are a great group to work with. "They come ready to work. They serve the meal that they have prepared, along with coffee and cold drinks, and during the cold weather they serve soup before the meal as guests arrive. This gives them another chance to interact with our guests,"  Jaaskelainen said. "Guests have commented on how polite and helpful all of the students are. Everyone enjoys them coming, and we hope that Wheaton will continue to take part in providing food and friendship to our guests."

Lydia DeRidder ’20, a member of the college's Community Service Council, often volunteers in soup kitchens and serves in her hometown. This was an opportunity for her to cook.

“I wanted to volunteer because we are making nutritious meals for those who may not be able to get it elsewhere. Many times people who do not make a lot of money are forced to buy cheap and pre-made meals that are not always nutritious,” she said.

Besides having the opportunity to give back to the community, the volunteers said they enjoyed the camaraderie of working together.

"The atmosphere was light and enjoyable but we all took our roles seriously,” said Sara Liu ’19, a history major. “I had a great experience because I was surrounded by fun and passionate volunteers.”

Georgia Michalovic ’18, a member of Farm House and Weiss Women, echoed her sentiment. "Service plays a fundamental role in defining and shaping community. I am thankful that opportunities like this are provided, where students get the chance to connect with peers they have not met before and with faculty and staff of the college, like Adam, the executive chef, and community members from the Norton–Attleboro area."