For students, helping others is Food for the Soul

November 8, 2013
Food for the Soul Program

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Thirteen University of Wisconsin-Platteville students currently enrolled in the Race, Gender, and Class course taught by Dr. Patricia Foster, director of the Patricia A. Doyle Women's Center at UW-Platteville, and several of the Women’s Center student employees have been helping harvest vegetables and prepare meals for Food for the Soul, a weekly meal program offered at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque, Iowa. This summer, 15 students enrolled in the course participated in the program as well.

“Volunteering for the Food for the Soul program has been greatly beneficial to the students,” said Foster. “They are able to see the true face of poverty and get a personal understanding of the impact of today’s economy.”

For more than 16 years, the Food for the Soul program has been providing nutritious food to people who live in a state of food insecurity, long for mealtime fellowship or may otherwise eat alone. The program is coordinated by Marcia Young and Mary Purdy, both members of the church. Others on the Food for the Soul ministry team include Bernie Zenner, Tammy Lynch and Bruce Leibold, all of Dubuque.  

A number of Food for the Soul volunteers are either UW-Platteville alumni and/or present or past faculty members, including Foster, Joe Lomax, Kathryn Lomax, Susan Alborn-Yilek, Chris Schrumpf, Martin Chislom and Nancy Bradley.

As volunteers, UW-Platteville students and other volunteers help prepare and cook food for the meal. They also spend time talking with the guests to offer companionship and identify if guests have any additional needs for food, clothing, shelter or medical care. Abraham Martin, a senior history major at UW-Platteville from Potosi, Wis., and Chelsea Reilly, a graduate assistant in the counseling psychology program at UW-Platteville from Edgerton, Wis., both student workers at the Patricia A. Doyle Women’s Center, have also provided entertainment at the dinner.

“The appreciation shown by the guests is testimony enough that the Food for the Soul meal is meaningful to them,” said Purdy. “Food for the Soul also impacts the students who volunteer by increasing their awareness about hunger and poverty. Those who are educated about hunger are better advocates for programs or congressional action, which help to alleviate hunger in our country.”

“All of the UW-Platteville students seem to have a heart for service and justice,” added Cheri Loveless, leader of one of the 11 Food for the Soul teams, which take turns preparing and serving meals. “I think this experience helps them get closer to those who are in need. It’s a different type of giving when you are in a relationship – it is not top-down giving, but reaching across the table, heart to heart.”

The average attendance at Food for the Soul meals is 95-100 people every Saturday night throughout the year. The meal serves anyone who wants to come but the majority of people are those living at or below the poverty line. It is a diverse group of people including babies and elderly, families and individuals, and those with physical and mental impairments. Craft activities for children are provided while they wait for mealtime.

In addition to preparing meals, UW-Platteville students also help plant and harvest vegetables from the St. Luke’s church garden, called Purdy Produce Plot because of its location on Purdy’s acreage near Galena, Ill. Each year, the garden, started in 2010, has produced 2,000 to 2,200 pounds of vegetables and fruit, which Purdy says has greatly increased the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables available to the guests, which improves their nutrition. The majority of the produce is used for the Food for the Soul meal program, either for the meal or for guests to take home to prepare. Excess produce is shared with other meal sites or homeless shelter residents or the local food bank. The expenses for the garden have been covered by grant funds.

“The UW-Platteville students have been a huge help to the Food for the Soul Program,” said Purdy. “Not only do they help prepare and serve the meals and spend quality time talking with the guests, they spend two to three hours picking, transporting and preparing the vegetables grown in the church garden. The class contributed about 20-30 hours of time to the garden.”

“I never realized how lucky I truly am to have what I have,” said Martin. “Volunteering for Food for the Soul has impacted my life in many ways. I can see that there is good in people’s hearts and that people go out of their way to provide for others. I hope to do more volunteer work, particularly when I return to Thailand where I studied for an academic year.”

“I loved knowing that even as a college student, I could help those around me,” said Crystal Fix, a senior business administration major from Waupun, Wis., who was in Foster’s class and volunteered for Food for the Soul during the summer 2013 and afterward. “Even though it was only a few hours out of my week, it meant a lot to the people who were served the meals. In the future, I hope to volunteer at something like this permanently or maybe even start a Food for the Soul program in whatever community I live in.”

Food for the Soul provides additional services from grant money, including bread and dessert products; produce from the Food for the Soul garden; carry-out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for future meals; non-perishable emergency food supplies for those who do not have shelter; financial assistance for emergency shelter, transportation and medical care; winter wear, etc. There are also shower facilities, towels and hygiene products for those who have no other options.

“UW-Platteville students have witnessed and contributed to this outreach program,” said Purdy. “I hope they see this as a prototype they can apply in their lifetime to other communities and organizations. Most of all, I hope that the students who have participated will have a life-long conscious awareness of hunger and will not only contribute personal efforts to help alleviate it, but will hold legislators accountable to advocate for adequate minimum wages and for supplemental nutrition programs that supply food for all who need it.”

Contact: Dr. Patricia Foster, Patricia A. Doyle’s Women’s Center, (608) 342-1453,

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191,


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