Christina McMichael has seen students come face to face with someone distinctly different from themselves, struggle with how to respond and then overcome their discomfort to reach out a hand and say a warm hello.
She shares this as an example of what happens when children serve at a soup kitchen – as Grade 6 to 8 students from Huron Christian School have been doing weekly for the last year.
“Some of the people who come to the soup kitchen aren’t the most lovable, and some suffer from mental illness,” says McMichael, a parent who has joined the students as a chaperone occasionally.
“You can see the kids struggling with the awkwardness of how to talk to them.”
But taking their cues from the adult volunteers also working at the kitchen, the students clearly come to realize that it’s OK to “reach out a hand and say hello and show kindness and mercy to someone who is less fortunate.”
“I just see them absorbing it all, which is really special,” McMichael tells OACS News.
McMichael has been especially struck by the volunteers who run the soup kitchen. They show they are not serving for recognition or even “for the cause of helping the needy,” but as an act of service to God.
“They certainly don’t get the recognition they deserve for their work … but they are just so happy to be about that service; that really struck me and encourages me to be there, as well as to get the kids involved,” McMichael says.
Heartland Community Church launched the soup kitchen in the town of Clinton, population 3,000, three years ago.
It is now open two days a week, serving 50 to 75 clients each time.
Four students in Grades 6 to 8 from Huron Christian School help with serving and cleaning up every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Grade 8 teacher Jacquie Gerrits joined recently as a chaperone and was impressed with how the students were showing her the ropes, indicating they had become quite familiar with what to do.
That the students have a chance to participate in something that is “outside their regular experience” — serving a meal to people who need it — is most exciting, she says.
Huron Christian School principal Nick Geleynse agrees the experience provides a unique opportunity for the students, particularly as it opens their eyes to the poverty that does exist in the area.
“Sometimes in a rural community poverty is very much a hidden thing. It’s not as obvious as in Toronto or Hamilton, where you see people on the streets,” he says.
“And yet there is a real need for a soup kitchen here. So our students have been exposed to that; we have been able to talk to them about it and they have a chance to be a blessing and help serve and reach out to these people.”
“I think this is a complementary aspect to what the students learn in school and what it means to put your faith in action,” says McMichael.
“To me it’s just a perfect fit to go out and be in the community, with people in our community who are less fortunate.”