Wooster’s Poverty Outreach Program Serves, and Connects with, Community on Daily Basis

Weekday breakfast program, held at local church, bridges student volunteers and community members

December 13, 2017   /  

WOOSTER, Ohio – Without the fanfare or media interest of celebrities, politicians, athletes, and the like who are broadcast serving up meals to those less fortunate during the holidays–all worthwhile efforts in their own right–there is a student group at The College of Wooster that serves, and connects with, the local community every single weekday morning throughout the academic year.

poverty outreach
Emily Colwell (left) and Melissa Dods (right) are two of the Wooster students who volunteer at a downtown Wooster breakfast program throughout the academic year.

The 12 Wooster students who live in the Poverty Outreach program house work alongside other volunteers from the community to provide the breakfast program, hosted at Trinity United Church of Christ in downtown Wooster, where an average of 60 people are served daily.

A group of students arrive each weekday at 7:30 a.m. to assist in the preparation of the breakfast and then help serve it from 8:30-9:15 a.m. Courtesy of generous donations from local businesses, including Buehler’s, Panera Bread, and Hartzler’s Dairy, meals are prepared from a set menu, with Thursday’s sausage and biscuits being the most popular, and the program is open to anyone.

It is so much more than a service, though, it’s about intentionally building strong relations within a shared living community, according to Emily Colwell, a senior psychology major who has been a member of the Poverty Outreach program for three years. Once the serving is complete, Colwell and other students typically “break bread” with the attendees in a genuine effort to get to know “our neighbors.”

“We really want to get away from the concept that we, as college students, are there to ‘help’ and ‘serve’ our community. Rather, we are there to get to know community members, share stories, and aim to improve the relationship between the campus and community members,” said Colwell. “When we reflect on our time there, pretty much everything comes back to our conversations with the guests.”

Rev. Kevan Franklin, senior minister at Trinity, agrees, adding the volunteers and students become a fellowship group in itself. “Volunteers inspire students to be in service, students inspire volunteers with their enthusiasm and concern for others, guests catch a glimpse of college life. Those relationships make the program. It is very hard for each of these groups to say goodbye when the school year ends.”

While Colwell’s three years with the service group will conclude next semester, the impact it has made is a lasting one. “It’s been an important part of my college experience for many reasons. One, it’s shown students what a free meal program should look like in my opinion. It helps bridge college members with community members … and hopefully breaks down any stereotypes. And, it teaches us about boundaries and how to communicate effectively. There’s a lot of important teaching and self-growth that goes on,” she said.

The Poverty Outreach program house has been providing this service for seven years. Last year, the program served 17,000 breakfasts and countless bonds were formed in the conversations held each weekday morning.