Orientation to Tackle Food Justice – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Orientation to Tackle Food Justice

Gearing up for the arrival of the Classes of 2018, the Orientation Coordinators are working in conjunction with the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) to finalize the service learning component of Orientation 2014. This year, the service activities that are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 30, and those held throughout the upcoming year, will be centered around the theme of food, hunger, and food justice.

“When new students come here we want them to feel like they’re going to be a part of the Finger Lakes and the Geneva community for four years,” says Jeremy Wattles, assistant director of CCESL. “It helps the community and we also learn from the community, but it’s a symbolic act to set the tone for how students can engage with the community over the next four years.”

Paul Ciaccia ’15 and Dana Williams ’16, this year’s Orientation Coordinators, have decided to take a slightly different approach to the service component of Orientation this year. In the past, each Orientation group has been assigned to a different project within the local community. This year, however, about one third of the first-years will stay on campus to take part in a large-scale project for the Stop Hunger Now organization.

Stop Hunger Now is an international non-profit organization that works to distribute food and other lifesaving aid to children and families in countries across the globe. Students at HWS will participate in one of the organization’s meal packaging programs in which ingredients like rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix are packaged into small meal packets and delivered internationally to those in need.

On campus, 250 first-years will gather in Bristol Gym to package about 60,000 meals. Wattles says the entire process will take about three hours. After the packaging is complete, Orientation groups and their mentors will reflect on the experience and discuss topics such as hunger from a global and personal perspective, and the impact of hunger on education.

“The reason we wanted to have a cohesive idea throughout the weekend is so our new members of the community understand why they’re doing it and why it’s important. Even if it’s something that they might not necessarily identify with or agree with, they can understand why it’s important and it’s relevant to this campus,” says Ciaccia.

Tasked with the challenge of finding “quality” and “meaningful” service projects for the more than 750 first-year students and Orientation mentors, Wattles is also putting together several additional smaller projects for the first-years not participating in the Stop Hunger Now initiative.  

Many of these projects will focus more locally on the theme of food, hunger and food justice. Wattles says the 56 students in the new sustainable living learning community will spend the day working on the campus farm, while several other teams of students will be dispersed to different neighborhoods where they will work with the neighborhood associations to spearhead community gardens.

Though food, hunger and food justice is the theme of the weekend, Wattles says he hopes to orient the service projects for the upcoming school year around the same issues. The second annual “Real Food Day” is already set for October, and he says the CCESL Civic Leaders are working to keep connections to the theme running throughout the semester. 

“There’s a lot of movement and interest right now on campus with things like the newly acquired farmland, Real Food Day, and the community garden,” Wattles says. “There’s ‘organic’ interest in these issues and we wanted to be a part of that.”

To supplement the service aspect of this year’s Orientation, Ciaccia and Williams are also working to implement a local food menu for the lunch provided after the service experience. In addition to creating a menu that features local food products from around the Finger Lakes region, the pair would also like to invite local farmers and “foodies” to share their own perspective on the importance of both the HWS and local community’s role in the support of food justice issues.

“We’re hoping that it encourages the first-year students to think seriously about where the food they eat comes from and how it gets there while simultaneously highlighting the resulting positive effects of a community that encourages locally grown, healthy food,” explains Ciaccia.

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