A group of eighth graders traveled down to Chelsea to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen to serve around 1,000 New Yorkers on Monday. In a program that is offered two to three times throughout the school year and fulfills their out-of-school service learning credit, eighth graders have a chance to volunteer at the soup kitchen by distributing food at the kitchen.
“Despite the vast selection of offered programs, students consistently choose the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen because they recognize its tremendous impact on the community,” Middle Division (MD) Service Learning Coordinator Caitlin Hickerson said. “Visiting the kitchen and conversing with the guests is a humbling experience because it humanizes hunger.”
Luke Millowitz (8), a student who went on the trip, thought it was quite different to see how a lot of other people lived, prompting him to think about how he could spend more of his time helping out others, he said.
As New York City’s largest emergency food provider, the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen combats hunger and homelessness in New York City. Not only does Holy Apostles serve meals and offer counseling or referral services, but it also guides its beneficiaries towards long-term self-sufficiency by maintaining an environment of humanity, compassion, and dignity, Hickerson said.
“The service done for the community is priceless, including the simple act of talking to homeless people who are ignored, bike messengers, or workers for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation,” Hickerson said. Students help prepare the food to be distributed, and clean up after the guests, she said.
“I enjoyed helping out and seeing the smiles of the people I helped,” Millowitz said.
Although MD trips to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and other volunteer destinations certainly expose students to their community and the process of service learning in general, Hickerson worries about the lack of a formal reflection process, she said.
The MD offers a variety of opportunities at different locations and at different dates throughout the year. Since students complete their requirements at different points during the year, it is difficult to coordinate discussions or reflections in an advisory setting, she said.
However, Hickerson plans to eventually integrate a more meaningful reflection system into the eighth grade service learning curriculum, such as conversations within advisories around the different kinds of ideas, mixed group settings where students can talk about the different activities they’ve done and compare them, or gathering students who’ve been to the same activities and talking about how those experiences affected them, she said.
While the service learning requirement should not be the primary motive for students to volunteer to aid their community, the requirement can still be seen in a positive light as it forces kids out of the comfort zone to try a new experience, Hickerson said. After completing the program, students are inspired to continue to contribute to their community, she said.
“Service inspires me to use my free time for something different and to help out the community,” Millowitz said.