HELPING HANDS - Spring 2006

Katie Schwartz (left), president of STONE Soup, and Laila Dantas, both Arts & Sciences Class of ’07, gather the hundreds of pairs of socks, gloves, and underwear donated during STONE Soup's first campus-wide sock-and-underwear drive in November 2005. The garments were to be distributed during the group's Sunday food deliveries.

Students Deliver Sustenance

by Terri Nappier

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2005, students returned to campus in droves. Relaxed and satiated from a long weekend spent visiting hometown family and friends and eating turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie, these students gathered, as usual, in residential houses and apartments nearby to share with University friends the events of their break. They also prepared themselves to tackle the last few weeks of classes and to focus on end-of-semester finals. They did what college students are expected to do.

But some also did the unexpected.

Juniors Katie Schwarz and Wendy Jenkins, along with freshman Jay Werber, as part of STONE Soup, delivered food that Sunday evening to homeless people in downtown St. Louis. While on the streets, Schwarz, a chemistry major, met Rita, a 20-year-old with two children and one on the way, who was worried about her 12-year-old sister becoming interested in boys and smoking pot. Schwarz also met Gerard, a very nice older man who just wanted someone to talk to, and Tommie, who was polite but quiet. Tommie has only one arm, and Schwarz heard from another that he’s writing a book. At St. Peter & Paul Shelter, she talked with an unemployed piano tuner, who laughed at her for being a liberal, and who showed her his poetry. (On a prior evening, Schwarz met an unemployed hair stylist, who is having trouble finding an apartment and a job, and she played cards and dominoes with others, hearing stories of the penitentiary.)

On these nights, Schwarz is a far cry from her Clayton apartment, lessons in physical chemistry, and Tallahassee home. But she says performing community service keeps her balanced—and she cares deeply about the plight of the homeless in her adopted city. And she is not alone.

Sophomores Jing Geng, Arts & Sciences Class of ’08, Daniel Cohen, Engineering Class of ’08, and Margaret Mann, Arts & Sciences Class of ’08, deliver food to area shelters as part of Feed St. Louis.

At the University, students in two groups—STONE (Students Together Offering Nourishment and Enrichment) Soup and Feed St. Louis—dedicate themselves to feeding the homeless.

Members of STONE Soup provide sandwiches, pasta, soup, and popcorn on Sunday evenings, passing out food in downtown’s Lucas Park and giving meals to St. Peter & Paul Shelter. One group of students prepares meals in the afternoon at the Catholic Student Center, and another delivers them, along with bread and pastries donated by the St. Louis Bread Company. The Catholic Student Center rents its van to the students to use for deliveries.

“One of the challenges is making sure STONE Soup fits in with what other organizations in the community are doing … to make sure we stay in our place,” says Schwarz, STONE Soup’s president. “Some of the area shelters don’t serve meals on Sunday nights, so the group’s founders 10 years ago thought STONE Soup could fill this need.”

Monday through Friday, members of another student group, Feed St. Louis, gather the leftover food from the Center Court in Wohl Student Center and take it to area shelters. Four shelters—Our Lady’s Inn, St. Peter & Paul Shelter, Salvation Army: Community in Partnership, and Salvation Army: Family Haven—are currently on the rotation.

“We buy little blue tubs from Bob’s Seafood, and we give them to Center Court. Each night, the cooks put all the leftover food into these pans, and that’s what we use to transport the food to the homeless shelters,” says Margaret Mann, a sophomore international and area studies major with an emphasis in Japanese, and president of Feed St. Louis.

Each night three student volunteers make the delivery, and each volunteer works only one night a week every other week.

“We try to make it as easy as possible to get people involved,” says Mann, “and although I am spending a lot of time doing this, I know that I am helping other students do something in their spare time to help other people.”

“I never realized how difficult it is for some people to just get through, or to find a place to sleep at night,” says sophomore Margaret Mann, president of Feed St. Louis.

STONE Soup was founded 10 years ago by Kelly Garrity, M.S.W. ’01, M.B.A. ’02, who was then social action director of the Newman Center; Hillel Rabbi Lynn Goldstein, who is a graduate student at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work; and David Pollio, associate professor of social work. Over the years, Ed Macias, executive vice chancellor and dean of Arts & Sciences, and his wife, Tedi, have been avid supporters of the group and have served as advisers.

Joshua Marshack, Arts & Sciences Class of ’07, is a member of STONE Soup.

“The founders’ mission was to promote student activism as a way to humanize poverty and to promote lifelong community activism,” says Pollio. “The students’ mission was to address the important issue of hunger in St. Louis.”

STONE Soup’s board includes a president, who oversees the entire operation; a treasurer, who handles all Student Union budget requests and money matters; a food coordinator, who makes sure food supplies are ample at Hillel, where the food is stored, or, if not, leads a food drive to replenish supplies; a volunteer coordinator, who is responsible for making the schedule and contacting the student volunteers; and a special events coordinator.

In November 2005, the special events group held a sock-and-underwear drive on campus, collecting hundreds of socks, underwear, gloves, and scarves to pass out on the streets with the Sunday meals.

Feed St. Louis was formed in 2001 by then-sophomore Arash Sabet, who wondered what happened each night to all the leftover food at Center Court. After finding out that the leftovers were thrown out, Sabet, who will receive a bachelor’s/master’s degree in mechanical engineering in May 2006, decided to form a student organization. Starting out with one delivery one night a week, the group now delivers to shelters five nights a week.

Feed St. Louis consists of a president, vice president, treasurer, vice treasurer, expansion chair, and 30+ volunteers who make the deliveries.

“A lot more students are interested, but we only have 30 slots to work with at this time,” says Mann. “We are working on expanding though. We’re talking with a couple of businesses in St. Louis about picking up their leftovers. Depending on what happens, we might try to take on more shelters.”

Thousands of men, women, and children in St. Louis are homeless at any given time. Schwarz, Jenkins, Weber, and Mann, along with numerous other Washington University students, volunteer to help make a difference in their lives.

“I never realized how difficult it is for some people to just get through, or to find a place to sleep at night,” says Mann. “I’ve always had a pretty easy life. My parents are wonderful; they’re sending me to this school.”

Washington University students demonstrate that learning comes in many forms; along with their academic pursuits, they make community service a priority.

Terri Nappier is the editor of this magazine.

(Names of the homeless individuals were changed to protect their privacy.)