By offering food to a weekly community dinner at a local church, members of Washington College’s Food Recovery Network are helping “close the gap on food waste” while nurturing a bond between College students and townspeople.
In the kitchen of the First United Methodist Church in Chestertown, excitement comes on a Monday evening in the form of enormous tin trays, as Rose Adelizzi ’19, Felicia Attor ’20, and Lizzie Massey ’20, uncover them one at a time.
“Oh, that looks yummy!” says Cheryl Hoopes, a neighbor and volunteer at the Community Table, a dinner that happens every Monday night in the church’s fellowship hall. “Oh, my goodness, it’s still coming, guys! Turkey!” She helps Adelizzi, Massey, and other volunteers uncover the dishes one by one—rice, some kind of mushroom and pasta casserole, roasted veggies—prepping them to go out onto three long tables that will serve as the buffet line once dinner begins. “We love it when the students come,” Hoopes says. “They’re just wonderful. It’s like Christmas every week for us.”
“We usually sit down and eat with them, get to know them, and it’s fun when you go into town and someone says, ‘Oh, you served food at the dinner!’ It’s nice to be connected to the town in that way,’’ says Gillian Heckert-Mitchell ’20, an anthropology major who is now in her second semester of participating in the FRN. “It’s by far my favorite thing of the week. It gets you off the campus, and I just like to serve and meet the community.”
Like many other clubs on campus, the Student Environmental Alliance wanted to become more directly involved with something that served the larger community, says Samantha Trikeriotis ’19, a psychology major and the current head of the FRN. Last year, several students worked to create a local chapter of the FRN, a national organization that mobilizes students on college campuses to prevent food waste by donating food that would not otherwise be used.
Don Stanwick, Director of Dining Services, helped the students get organized. The program is now in its third semester, going strong, and he’s encouraging the students to expand it. Stanwick says that Dining Services tries to forecast its menu for the day, estimating how much of a particular dish it will need for the College. Much of the time, leftover food goes into another meal for students, especially soups, he says. But if there’s a large portion that can’t, for whatever reason, be used in time or for another meal, Stanwick says that becomes food for the FRN.
“In the past, it got tossed, and it was just a waste,” he says. “This allows us to give food to somebody who needs food, and that’s why we like the program and we like to support it. It helps out. It’s one of those things that everyone can be involved in. You just have to give a little bit of your time.”
As of November 20, students had recovered 1,207 pounds of food during the fall semester, Trikeriotis says. They head to the dining hall at about 4 p.m. in the afternoon on Mondays and get trays of food, already heated and in a rolling food insulator that the students then drive down to the church. Working with other volunteers from the community, they set up and serve soup, salad, fresh veggies, and multiple entrees. A new addition this year is composting; the students have expanded the College’s composting program to include as much as possible from the Community Table dinner.
“It’s just another way to close the gap on food waste,” says Melia Greene ’20, who heads up the SEA’s composting program. “It’s fun to teach people about it. Instead of wasting so much, we can teach them to give back.”
Pastor David Ryan says the Community Table typically draws 100 to 125 people each week. Some of them depend on the meal financially, and for others, it’s a way to connect to their community. People of all ages and backgrounds attend. About six volunteer cooks join up to 10 other volunteers who team up with the College students to provide the food, set up, serve, and clean up.
“It’s for everyone to participate,” Ryan says. “What’s wonderful to me is that people talk about diversity, but here they sit together and stand in line together. There are older people who are fine financially, but they don’t want to eat alone. We really try to serve everyone… being together is part of why we are doing this.”
Chestertown resident Pat Pardee attends nearly every Monday with her husband, Alvin. “It’s always very good,” she says. “You get all kinds of people. No matter who you are, you’re welcome. And it’s nice they have so many College students helping.”
Like many of the students, Trikeriotis says she’d never done anything like this before, and now, it’s something she looks forward to every week.
“Everyone here is really friendly,” she says. “Everyone is really kind, and they’re excited to see all the Washington College students.”
Anyone from the WC community can volunteer to help the FRN with its Monday evening Community Table. If you’re interested, contact Rebecca Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sam Trikeriotis at email@example.com.