Western Hills students serving others

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After reading “No Promises in the Wind” in their eighth-grade English Language Arts class, several students in Stephanie Kaffenberger’s class spent some time connecting what they had read to real life and times. The book is set during the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, and tells the story of a young teen making his way through one of the most turbulent times in history, dealing with problems such as not having a job, shelter or enough food to eat.

As a teacher, Kaffenberger feels it is important to help her students connect what they have read to real life, hands-on experiences, but even more so, she feels it is important to provide them with a wider perspective of the world that exists outside of their world at Western Hills Middle School.

To that end, Kaffenberger and a parent chaperone, Tanya Latzman, accompanied nine students on an after school trip to the St. Charles Church soup kitchen where the hungry and homeless are fed dinner, drinks and dessert on Thursday nights from 4:15 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The students were among other adult and youth volunteers, including high school and college students who helped to serve the macaroni and meatball dinner, salad, bread, drinks and dessert; helping to clean up at the end of the meal. They listened closely as the organizers of the soup kitchen assigned them to their stations and their roles as servers, hosts and hostesses. They learned that because it was the first week of the month and food benefits renew each month, the soup kitchen might not be quite as busy as the end of the month, when many have had their benefits run out. Despite that, there was a steady stream of people coming in for the entire hour the students were serving the food.

“This always has such an impact on them,” said Kaffenberger. “I have had years in the past where I have had to make this trip several times because I had so many responses. I have also had times when they have asked to come back over the summertime because this had such an impact on them, and I have agreed to meet up here with them in the summer months when they’ve asked.”

In the past, Kaffenberger has also had the students participate in the actual preparation of the food which is going to be served at a soup kitchen, but feels that the impact is greater when the students actually get to see where that food is going, and the people who are in need that the food is going to.

“I think it’s important that they see that part of it,” she said. “It’s important too, to see how close this is to where we are, and yet it is a whole different world. It’s not like Western Hills Middle School everywhere you go.”

The students all agreed that they enjoyed the experience of helping others in a different way than they had in the past, they liked interacting with the people they met, and they were fascinated to see what a soup kitchen actually was, versus what they thought it would be. Each of them stated that they had the classic image in their minds of long lines of people and ladles of soup being served out of big pots, and into bowls to the hungry.

“I expected it to be some dark place, but it was so bright, and such a big place,” said Carmela Andreozzi.

“Honestly, it was so different than I expected it to be,” said Olivia Martin. “The people were so nice, so gracious.”

All of the students concurred that they would definitely take the time to take a trip like this again in the future.

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