The Service Learning Team at PDS is constantly reevaluating their efforts to contribute meaningfully to the community around us. Recently, as they looked at all aspects of Service and PDS traditions, they chose to reflect on “Spartan Lunch,” which had previously been a school donation of $2,000 to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) in lieu of covering faculty/staff lunches for four days.
Of course, this meaningful tradition cannot be reimagined without thinking about its history and connection to two longtime beloved faculty members, Andy Franz and Dale Griffee. Andy, our retired woodworking teacher after whom our shop was named, believed it was crucial that the faculty and staff at PDS remember how lucky we are to have lunch every day and to recognize there are many who don’t have this luxury. English teacher, Dale Griffee, who suffered a heart attack at school in 1985, was consistently involved in social justice issues and the faculty felt that this would be a way to honor his memory. Holding these two faculty members at the heart of Spartan lunch is critical. While this ‘act of kindness’ was a generous and valid response to a critical need, the spirit behind the lunch had begun to fade. PDS leadership agreed to continue to support TASK with the $2,000 contribution, however the contribution would no longer be tied to faculty lunches.
In an effort to revitalize the longstanding tradition of Spartan Lunch and its purpose of combating food insecurity in our greater community, the Service Learning team conducted a survey of the faculty and staff to find meaningful ways to engage in this mission. The responses showed that they wanted more opportunities to do hands on activities that connected them with the goal. This desire for active participation inspired the first service event that aims to reimagine Spartan Lunch. The School again partnered with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, but this time faculty and staff came together to pack Dinner Bags for children who attend dinner at TASK. On Thursday evenings, each child is sent home with a dinner bag for the weekend. The goal was to contribute as many complete dinner bags as possible, so the faculty and staff were asked for specific items requested by TASK, similar to the reimagined Food Drive held last year. In lieu of items, cash donations were also accepted.
Each Dinner Bag consisted of:
- Tuna Salad or Chicken Salad and Crackers, Chef Boyardee, or any similar microwavable, individual serving of pasta
- a box of juice
- an individual portion of canned fruit
- a packaged dessert that won't go stale
- a plastic teaspoon
- and a napkin in a brown mid-day bag
Faculty and staff members then assembled in front of the Upper Gym during lunch to pack the bags. Students also contributed to the effort in many ways, such as taking time out of their day to decorate the bags with fun drawings and kind messages. Students from Ms. Gibson’s 3rd Grade class helped set up the bagging station in the morning, while the Middle School Service group researched facts about food insecurity that were turned into infographics for display. Upper School students from the Bridges program were instrumental in loading up the bags, as well as disposing of all the recycling that was created by the packaging.
This new initiative driven by faculty and staff demonstrates how central service is to the School’s overall mission. In their effort to combat food insecurity, they served as visible role models for the student’s, as opposed to just facilitating student service learning opportunities. In all, PDS was able to donate 400 completed bags, as well as about $200 in cash donations and miscellaneous items for the food pantry shelves! “We were really excited by how successful this first event was,” said Gibson. The faculty contributed so many goods and were so enthusiastic about helping to bag that it was completed in record time! While there was a two hour window to help put together the dinner bags, it was accomplished in under one thanks to everyone’s effort. Middle School Spanish teacher Cathy Quinlan reflects that this event “makes me even more proud to be a member of the PDS community.”