Around one in four children in the south Cumberland plateau, where Sewanee: The University of the South is located, doesn’t have enough food to eat. Sewanee found a way to solve the needs of not only area students but also its own employees – for the second summer, it’s running the South Cumberland Meal Program for eight weeks, under the umbrella of the South Cumberland Plateau VISTA program and in partnership with the South Cumberland Community Fund and 22 community organizations.
Sewanee dining staff, who have for years been hired seasonally, unable to work during the summer when the students have left campus, are no longer laid off during the off months. They’re making meals for local children – 350 breakfasts, 600 lunches, and 370 dinners in just the first five days – meals which are delivered to 21 different sites in three counties, including Beersheba Springs Library in Grundy County, which incorporates programs on reading and wildlife to make the program that much more enriching (most of the venues combine meals with educational programming).
For Sewanee Dining, the meals program is a way to avoid laying off staff during the summer and, it turns out, is a big morale booster. For years, food service work at the University had been seasonal employment, ebbing and flowing with the academic calendar. But those summer layoffs created a real hardship for employees. In recent years, the University has moved to improve its food service by ending its reliance on an outside food contractor and making the workers University employees. Even then, there were still seasonal layoffs.
When [Sewanee Dining director] Rick Wright learned about a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to support summer meal programs for children, he saw it as a way to help two groups of people—his employees who might want the extra summer work, and kids in the area who would benefit from having free meals during the non-school months.
There’s been an additional benefit, too, that wasn’t part of the plan. “We didn’t anticipate how the meal program would affect the staff in the dining hall,” Wright says. “It’s been such a morale-builder for my staff. They know some of the kids we’re feeding. … They like being involved in something bigger than themselves.” The morale boost was obvious last summer, he says; this year, employees began asking in the spring if Sewanee Dining was going to participate again.
Read the entire story on Sewanee’s website.
Photo, from Sewanee.edu: Sewanee dining staff and students during the academic year.