December 11, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 6

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    Students donate time, noting one day of service only a fraction of time needed to fill food shortages

    By Deva Woodly
    News Office

    Photos by Lloyd DeGrane

    On a recent Saturday, a number of University students headed into the city of Chicago to put in a dayís work, providing assistance to the Chicago Greater Food Depository by packing pasta and cooking lunch for those in need of a free meal at St. Stevenís Lutheran Church in Englewood.

    At the Greater Food Depository of Chicago, most of the work is done behind closed doors, sorting goods, weighing quantities and packaging meals, without direct contact with the thousands of families that eventually will be helped.

    Hannah Fine, a first-year in the College and a member of the University Community Service Center’s two-year intensive service and leadership program Community Service Leadership Training Corps, observes, “it can feel cut off from the people, but it’s really important to do all kinds of service depending on what’s needed.” Fighting hunger may not be glamorous work, but it makes a difference.

    Several dozen University students arrived on a recent Saturday morning at the Food Depository for the Community Service Center’s quarterly Day of Service. After they were ushered into a locker room, students stored their personal items and changed into white smocks, hair nets and gloves. Their temporary uniforms allowed them to work with the massive quantities of donated food that pass daily through the Food Depository.

    On this particular day, the Food Depository volunteers were charged with sorting and packaging pasta for distribution. Fine described the experience: “We were all set up on a long assembly line with some of us pouring pasta into bags, others weighing the pasta and tying the bags closed, and still others labeled the bags and grouped them into larger batches.”

    While the task could get repetitive, Fine was quick to note, “It’s especially important to get away from campus and see different parts of the city and different organizations that are trying to make an impact on the area we live in.”

    Foreign exchange student Catherine Warin of France folds clothing in the St. Stevenís church basement. Donated clothing is sorted and given to those in need throughout the community.

    The Greater Chicago Food Depository is the largest hunger relief program in the city. The Food Depository works with a network of more than 600 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in neighborhoods throughout Chicago and feeds approximately 500,000 people every year. That works out to about 46 million pounds of non-perishable foods and fresh produce, or the equivalent of about 95,000 meals per day.

    The Food Depository was one of five locations where University student volunteered. Others included: St. Procopius Food Pantry, a Thanksgiving dinner giveaway in the Gage Park neighborhood and the Family Farmed Expo in downtown Chicago. A total of 139 students participated in the Day of Service across these diverse neighborhood sites.

    The holiday season struck many students as a particularly poignant time to aid in the fight against hunger. First-year Pieter Ouwerkerk noted, “There was a sense of enthusiasm and urgency in the room; you could tell that everyone wanted to serve as many families as possible.” In the end, students sorted and bagged about 2,100 pounds of pasta.

    Still, many of the students were quick to point out that the problem of hunger is too large to be addressed during a single day of service. “I think we recognized that our time spent on Saturday was only a fraction of what needs to be done to remedy the food shortages across Chicago,” Ouwerkerk said.

    “I think it’s great that there’s an opportunity for everyone to volunteer through the day of service,” Fine added, “but there are also a lot of other chances to get involved with service throughout the entire year,” through the programs of the University Community Service Center.

    For information about volunteer opportunities, visit http://ucsc.uchicago.edu or contact David Hays, Assistant Director of the University Community Service Center, at dhays@uchicago.edu or (773) 753-4483.