Where I’ve been lately

I’m slacking over here, and I know it. There’s still no DC post, and I haven’t cooked much of anything worth writing about lately. I’ve eaten like garbage, too, but that’s what happens when you’re so busy you can’t finish one thing because of a paralyzing fear of the 65 other things you have to do. No? That’s just me?

Lies.

One of my jobs has been nuts. It’s Lent, which is a really important season for many Christians (that’s what they tell me anyway), so there’s been a flurry of activity needing my attention. I also started two more classes and picked up another one, so I’ve been working on educating the next generation of…me? Yikes.

The up side is there have been a few really great outreach opportunities related to food, and our friends Dawn and Carol have been front and center. Even more exciting, though, was watching two local teens get involved in feeding the community and learning the ups and downs of reaching out to people in need. Instead of rewriting the story, I’m copying and pasting the article I published today as well as giving you a link to the original below the break, if you are so inclined.

 

 

Teens Feed 150 Homeless and Hungry for Mardi Gras

Dawn (left) and Carol (second from left) with Sarah (middle, with glasses), Lindsay (second from right), and volunteers

During her sophomore year at Pensacola High School, Sarah Morrow, 17, came up with a big idea. After participating in the successful Thanksgiving Outreach Meal held annually at Christ Church, her home parish, she asked herself if she “could provide a celebration of sorts for every holiday for those less fortunate.” If the Thanksgiving meal was such a big event, why not reach out to more people more often? Morrow knew this would be a difficult task, so on the advice of her teacher, William Rose, she narrowed her focus to a single holiday, but she still needed help deciding which one.

Enter fellow Pensacola High School student, Lindsay Knapp, also 17, and Christ Church’s Reverend Jessica Babcock. Together, the trio landed on Mardi Gras as an oft-overlooked outreach opportunity perfect for their idea. According to Knapp, they chose Feb. 22, the day after Fat Tuesday, over Easter “because in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a time when many people get together and have a great big feast.” To these young women, that feast should be open to the many people who would otherwise be unable to enjoy a traditional Mardi Gras menu of red beans and rice. Pair this great idea with the Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) requirement of Knapp and Morrow’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and the Christ Church Mardi Gras Outreach Feast was born.

Now both juniors, Knapp and Morrow have 18 months to complete a 100-hour service requirement, but for them, this feast was about much more than the IB diploma. Knapp explained their motivation was “to discover new aspects of ourselves as well as to create a true relationship with the people in our community.” Morrow saw it as an opportunity to deepen her existing commitment to service and develop her self-concept. “Serving people is a major part of who I am and who I aim to be,” Morrow explained, “and this project gave me an opportunity to really focus on that side of myself.”

Red beans and rice ready to go
Red beans and rice getting ready to go in the oven

The larger project, entitled “Food For Thought,” includes the feast at Christ Church as well as a series of other events focused on raising awareness of hunger and poverty in the Pensacola area and throughout the world. In the next phase of their program, they plan to engage more youth in their mission with the “30 Hour Famine,” an event in which Christian youth fast for 30 hours together in act to raise awareness for poverty and hunger worldwide. You can read more about this program at the 30 Hour Famine website.

Overall, “Food For Thought” is, put simply, these students’ attempt at making the world a better place. According to Morrow, “People might think one person can’t make a significant difference.” She added, “I believe otherwise.” Showing youth how they can become an important part of combatting hunger and poverty in their own communities has been a primary aim of the project since its inception, even if it didn’t start out as a Mardi Gras feast. Originally, the young women hoped to simply support existing efforts in the community and help alleviate some of the burden on local shelters. However, when Babcock suggested their event should have a clear and unique theme, Knapp and Morrow landed on Mardi Gras as an entirely new opportunity to reach out to hungry people in the Pensacola area.

While the holidays are filled with a number of groups providing services for those experiencing homelessness and hunger, early spring is often quiet in this regard. Local shelters and outreach groups like Waterfront Rescue Mission and the Lee Street Feeding Project provide their usual daily, weekly, or monthly services and meals, but there are almost no special events to bring people together once the holiday season winds down. With this and Babcock’s advice in mind, the young women chose Mardi Gras and set about engaging both youth and adults.

Through donation requests, volunteer drives, and fundraising efforts, Knapp and Morrow were able to collect and prepare enough food for 200 people on site at Christ Church. However, Mardi Gras, as it turns out, does not draw the typical holiday crowds, and the night of the feast saw around 60 guests enjoying the homemade red beans and rice. Rather than seeing the smaller number as a disappointment from their expected 200, the pair found a number of silver linings and even another opportunity to provide for their community members.

The smaller crowds allowed volunteers to sit down and talk to the guests for longer than they would have if they’d drawn more than they did, an unexpected characteristic about which Knapp reflected, “that was my favorite part of the night.” It was a prime opportunity to build those relationships they hope to build, getting to know the people for whom they’d worked so hard. They were also comforted by the fact they were more than adequately staffed, and the smaller number ensured they wouldn’t run out of food, common fears for events like this one. In the end, Morrow said she was “satisfied” there were fewer guests than expected, as they had “plenty of food and an enjoyable night.”

As for what happened to that extra food, Knapp and Morrow ran into a perfect opportunity to continue the Mardi Gras celebration and provide for even more people in the community. Babcock connected the young women and their leftover red beans and rice with Dawn and Carol Cooper, the chefs and brains behind the Lee Street Feeding Project. The Coopers provide a hot, fresh, home-cooked meal to people under the Lee Street bridge on Thursday nights, and on Feb. 23, Knapp and Morrow accompanied their regular volunteer team. While a number of their guests are experiencing homelessness, that is not always the case. Sometimes, the people who join the Coopers just need a bite to eat. On this particular night, nearly 100 guests got that bite with a side of laissez les bon temps rouler. With the second night of the meal under the bridge, Knapp and Morrow were afforded an opportunity to see just how far their efforts could reach.

Guests line up for Lee Street Feeding Project's Thursday night meal
Guests lining up at Lee Street

Since “Food For Thought” spans 18 months, these enterprising young women will likely see several opportunities for those efforts to impact even more people. Their next step is planning the 30 Hour Famine and raising funds for more events like the Mardi Gras Outreach Feast. First, they have a lot of helping hands to thank, including Reverend Babcock, Christ Church Youth Minister James Lawrence, Christ Church Rector Father Michael Hoffman, the Coopers, and their numerous feast night volunteers. Knapp and Morrow also would like to thank the Christ Church community for all its support, from providing the event venue to their donations, time, and “kind words.”

Asked how they felt about the feast in hindsight, Morrow concluded, “If we can improve the life of just one person, I’d call that a success.” When two high school students can inspire an entire parish community to feed more than 150 hungry people over two nights, it’s safe to say more than one life has been improved. Lindsay Knapp and Sarah Morrow easily surpassed their own bar for success.

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