Indian Spring Service Learning Group explores hunger in Waco
By Craig Nash
This year I have had the pleasure of working with students at Indian Spring Middle School in a Service Learning Group focusing on the issues of Poverty and Hunger in McLennan County. The Service Learning program, led by Travis Cheatham, combines educating students on “real world” concerns and equipping them to use their own gifts and talents in working toward creating a better world for themselves and their neighbors. During the fall, we talked about food insecurity and its causes. Students learned about minimum and living wages, creating a personal budget and food deserts. They were introduced to ideas about effective ways to engage in social change and given brief synopses of the many organizations in Waco dedicated to addressing hunger. They were particularly interested in three specific organizations– Caritas, Mission Waco’s Jubilee Food Market and Meals & Wheels of Waco. So, on January 30, we hopped on a bus for a field trip to those locations.
At Caritas, Director Buddy Edwards met us in the office area and spoke about the administrative work that goes into running Waco’s largest food pantry. Here the students heard about all the other services Caritas provides, such as GED training, SNAP enrollment and health education. Then Mr. Edwards led us through the rest of the facility, including the food distribution area, warehouse and front intake area. One of the things we brought up continually to students, a concept that many of them already knew well by experience, is that many people in our community who receive free food and other social services are people who have full time jobs, (some more than one) and often look just like people we are all friends and family with. The opportunity to see this firsthand was, I believe, a transformative experience.
The highlight of the students’ experience at Caritas was getting to enter the large walk-in freezer and experience zero-degree temperatures, and also taking a picture outside the beautifully painted new produce trailer located behind the building.
From Caritas, we traveled to the Jubilee Food Market where we met Kathy Wise of Mission Waco. On the way there, Mr. Cheatham gave students a lesson in the history of the Brook Oaks neighborhood, from its early days as an enclave of wealthy Wacoans, to its decline, to recent successes in revitalizion. Ms. Wise filled in some of the gaps, describing the neighborhood as being in a food desert before the acquisition of the building where the Market currently stands. She told stories of neighbors who often ended up paying as much for rides to the nearest grocery store as they do on groceries. Last fall students learned about the concept of food deserts, so this was a great oportunity for them to see first hand an organization working to alleviate this challenge.
The morning ended at Meals & Wheels, where Janet Nors walked students through the process of getting food from their facility to distribution hubs around the Heart of Texas and into the homes of seniors. Here, students asked many well-informed questions, such as how someone qualifies for receiving meals from M&W and what are the nutritional components of each meal. They seemed most surprised to learn that the organization also delivers pet food to its clients, and were intrigued at hearing the reason behind this, which is that many seniors in need will often give any food they receive to their pets, knowing they may not eat otherwise.
At the end of each stop, students asked each tour guide ways they could help. Ideas generated were helping Caritas mark off bar-codes from their gifts-in-kind, sharing flyers for Jubilee Food Market, and putting on a pet food drive for Meals & Wheels. They are currently considering which of these they are most excited about and capable of operating. I’m excited to see what they come up with.
I suspect the field trip was as meaningful for me as it was for them. In my role at Texas Hunger Initiative, I have the honor of working with folks all around the city working to alleviate hunger but rarely get to see them in their element like I was able to with these students. The dedication and joy I witnessed as they were in their “natural habitat” was inspiring, and I’m happy the students were able to witness that as well. If you see any of them out and about town, give them a huge “Thank You” for what they do, and the impact they have on our city.
Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.
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