On a recent day in February, Country School ninth graders donned hairnets and aprons and served lunch at the New Covenant Center, a soup kitchen and food pantry in Stamford. Country School is developing what it hopes will be a long-term partnership with the non-profit organization. “It was my first time volunteering where I directly served people,” said ninth grader Andrew Butcher. “I could see the effect of what I was doing.”
Sixth graders also spent an afternoon volunteering at the center. During their visits students toured the facility, served as pantry support volunteers—unpacking groceries and stocking shelves. They learned about the people, the amount of food allocated to families and the systems utilized to run the center. Twenty second and third graders also helped out at the center on a Wednesday afternoon.
“We chose a local organization so that students understand that ‘need’ is not always far away; it can be as close as seven miles away,” said Director of Community Development Lynn Sullivan whose office is organizing the visits.
In advance of their visits in November and December, sixth grade students met with the center’s Executive Director John Gutman to learn more about the mission of New Covenant Center and its array of services beyond food services, including a haircutting stand, job skills training, and limited health and dental care. In addition, all Upper School faculty participated in a guided visit through the center to begin to imagine meaningful volunteer opportunities and curricular ties.
After the visit, students spent time reflecting about their experience, including what surprised them about their visit.
“I liked that they call the dining room a ‘café’ and not a soup kitchen and the people who eat there are called ‘guests,” said Butcher. “It gave the people there more dignity.” He was also surprised by the number of families, including children, at the center.
The NCCS Office of Community Development is working with the center’s Director of Volunteer services to develop a “testimony” series where guests can speak share their stories “They will be able to authentically engage with communities that may be vastly different from their own,” said Ms. Sullivan.