Behavioral and Community Health Feeds Those in Need
In a Hyattsville United Methodist church basement, BCH faculty, staff and students joined with the community to help provide free meals to the homeless, near-homeless and poor. Making and serving food on three different days in November, participants helped neighbors while gaining relevant experience for their coursework, including Dr. James Butler’s undergraduate course on Principles of Community Health. Some donated time and others donated money to serve as many as 150 meals each day.
These efforts are part of the School of Public Health’s new partnership with The Community Place Café, working with the director of Prince George’s County Ministries, Colonel Jimmie Slade. Colonel Slade has longstanding connections with BCH, having known Dr. Sharon Desmond for years and worked on community research and outreach projects with Dr. Cheryl Holt. Department Chair Dr. Barbara Curbow was interested in encouraging students to participate in community service projects, and this work also ties in with the university’s campus-wide Do Good initiative.
On one of the volunteer days, the church inadvertently booked both the university and another community organization to provide food. The confusion turned out to be a good thing, though: the other group brought hot main dishes, while SPH volunteers brought sandwiches. This meant that those being served were able to enjoy a hot meal on-site, and take sandwiches home for the weekend, when Community Place Café is not open.
Students genuinely enjoyed their experience with this project. “As a Ph.D. student, it's very easy to get tied into my research, classwork, and other commitments, but I think volunteering here was an experience that was definitely worthwhile,” Ms. Zahra Saboori said. “It was so nice to see SPH students of all levels, professors, and staff committed to giving back to the community we all belong to.”
The patrons of the café were also appreciative. Dr. Desmond tells of one women who had tears in her eyes because she was able to take home food for her children.
Dr. Desmond says that a proper plan to economically sustain this project must be created. She speculated about creating a continuous departmental service activity of food prep tasks like sandwich-making.
“This opportunity reinforced the fact that need does indeed exist in our own society, and much of it is right here in our own back yard,” Ms. Saboori said.