When Food Transforms Chaos to Community

By Father Steve Hess, S.J. (’87, ’91)

Anyone in Spokane in 2008 remembers the blizzard – the unexpected snowstorm affectionately called “Snowmaggedon,” which left the city nearly paralyzed as people were unable to leave their homes for work. For Gonzaga students, it was finals week, and the disruption of exams could have been celebrated as a gift from God if only they could have still escaped for their winter break destinations.

Very limited numbers of faculty and staff were able to drive to campus. Hundreds of students were stranded because the airport was closed and it was too dangerous to drive. As a Jesuit who was serving as the dean of Student Development and also the chaplain in one of the residence halls, I and the staff on hand were working together to care for our students and manage the chaos. As the days progressed with no relief from the snow, there was worry about how we would feed the students because the food pantry was running low on supplies.

It so happened that the annual President’s Christmas Party – a semiformal event for faculty and staff – was scheduled for the Friday evening of that week. The grand party would have had spectacular decorations and a wide array of fine foods representing many nationalities – which soon became the only food Sodexo had on hand to feed students.

And thus, an unusual feast took place: The delicious specialties intended for a holiday celebration turned into a meal shared by stranded students and the custodial staff in a COG transformed by elaborate party décor. As students arrived expecting to eat the regular fare in the everyday environment of the COG, their faces lit up with smiles. They were in awe of the wide array of food that was prepared to perfection and displayed with elegance. Students took pictures of the food to send to their parents. One student started crying when she walked into the transformed COG and said, “There is a God!”

If the food, decorations and happiness of the students were not enough, something far more spectacular happened that evening. Students and staff dined together and enjoyed each other’s company. People who were stressed over the weather and being stranded shared in an experience, a communion of spirits where new relationships were built. This was Gonzaga at her best! More importantly, God became very visible to a community that was in need of hope. All this happened over food and dining together.

The COG feast of Snowmaggedon illustrates the important role food plays in our lives. It provides nourishment not only for our bodies but for our souls. Food facilitates people coming together to build community and relationships. It is a way to remember that being together as one human family enjoying our similarities and differences is what truly matters in life. And, when these things happen, God is present!

 



Hungry Eyes

By Eli Francovich (’15)

I feel her stare.

I’m sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant in New Delhi. Outside the big glass windows, two filthy children stand, pressed against the glass. The younger one, a boy, darts off chasing passersby. But the girl – his sister? – she doesn’t move from her post.

Occasionally she pushes open the door, peeking her head in, sir, sir, sir, she says miming the act of eating. She continues until a waiter gently shoos her away. Returning to the sidewalk, she taps the window.

My food arrives and I eat. It’s hardly a comfortable dining experience. Her staring eyes and evident hunger force self-reflection.

In America, there is a push toward understanding where our food comes from, sustainable growing practices, farm-to-table, etc. Perhaps it’s more important to consider where our food doesn’t go? Who isn’t eating the way we eat? Who isn’t eating at all?

Eventually the girl leaves. Months after she’s gone, I still feel her restless eyes.



The Empty Cupboard

Facing Food Insecurity

By Kourtney Schott (’18) and Kate Vanskike

In years past, food issues concerning college students tended to focus on eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. While those illnesses remain very real, a new trend has emerged as a serious topic of concern in higher education circles: food insecurity.

Last December, CNN cited a growing number of food pantries opening on college campuses and a study showing that more than half of students who self-reported as “food insecure” were also recipients of financial aid from federal grant and private scholarship, and they were employed while in school.

With all of the seemingly abundant food options on Gonzaga’s campus, it could be hard to fathom that not all students have ready access to nutrition. However, even students who live on campus can find themselves in situations where food may seem a luxury.

“When students get stressed financially, usually one of the first things they try to do is drop their meal plan or try to identify a cheaper alternative,” says Jim White, dean of Student Financial Services. The expense of room and board – which averages about $11,000 for the academic year – can be a challenge for families, and the meal plan is required for freshmen and sophomores.

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally students do come forward and request help with their food expense and the University (and its food services partner, Sodexo) are happy to help find funding and solutions, White says.

You can help.
Donations to the Gonzaga Scholars fund provides assistance to students in need. Click here.

In addition, Gonzaga’s Center for Cura Personalis is reaching out to local services and pantries to include Gonzaga’s unique ZIP code as part of their served areas.

Plus, Student Involvement and Leadership has introduced an app called “Corq” that shows on-campus events with a filter for events with free food. This can be a great way for students with food insecurities to get what they need without feeling embarrassed.

Students in Gonzaga’s sociology department are wrapping up research they conducted on campus last fall about the realities of food insecurities among Zags, and what steps we can take to lessen the concerns.

 

Nutritional care & expert help for students
Gonzaga has a registered dietitian available in Health and Counseling Services for students who want to seek nutritional care, manage food allergies, gain muscle, lose weight or just feel better, says Libby Skiles, assistant dean of Student Well-Being and Healthy Living.

There’s even a healthy eating group called A Healthier Weight that meets weekly.

However, the University doesn’t manage eating disorders. For students (and others) who suffer from bulimia, anorexia or other illnesses requiring comprehensive treatment, Gonzaga refers to a service called The Emily Program. Learn more at emilyprogram.com.

 

 

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