Students from a Central Medford High School (CMHS) class are preparing the Ashland community peace meals once a month.
The community peace meals were only available Fridays at various city parks and Tuesdays at The First United Methodist Church. But about a month ago the meals upgraded to a daily event, at Pioneer Hall every day but Tuesday and Sunday.
Karyn McAllister, culinary instructor, said the kids made the meal from scratch, which last week was lasagna and breadsticks. They’ll continue to prepare the Thursday meal once a month through April.
McAllister said CMHS is a largely, low socioeconomic school, which means more than 77 percent of the students have free or reduced lunch. Essentially, it’s an alternative school.
“Many of the students there have actually been homeless themselves or are currently homeless, couch surfing,” McAllister said. “They’re giving back and recognizing that they have turned an unfortunate situation into something positive.”
The CMHS class is a combined advisory-type, overseen by the science and outdoor adventure leadership (OAL) instructor, Kacy Carlson and McAllister, the culinary instructor. The class consists of about 14 juniors and seniors.
Senior Zachery Balogh said it’s an eye-opener.
“Say someone’s not on a good path, then obviously there’s a chance that they could end up like this,” Balogh said. “We tend to take people who aren’t doing so well at school and put them in the OAL program. Then there’s incentives like this such as volunteering and going on trips to straighten them out and help them do better.”
Senior Vanessa Sanchez said she enjoys the class and giving back to the community.
“I think it’s cool to give back, especially around the holidays,” Sanchez said.
Junior Emily Rodriguez said the class always works on service projects.
“It’s pretty fun,” Rodriguez said. “We’re always doing something like this.”
McAllister said they perform a service-learning project every month.
Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice has supplied the community meals on Fridays for about two years now, board member Jason Houk said. With the help of the Peace House, Food Angels, donations from local restaurants, the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission (ACPC) and the “crock-pot brigade,” these organizations have come together to supply daily meals for the hungry.
Houk said community members often bring in crock-pot meals. He said Komac Tapp, an Ashland resident, has supplied a giant pot of soup every Sunday for years.
“This is the only chance these people have to come in out of the cold, take off their backpacks and eat a hot meal,” Houk said.
A homeless woman who goes by the street name Gummy Bear said the community meals are often the only meal she gets each day and that there are many benefits to the kids making the meals.
“I like the idea that they’re doing it because, for one, it’s giving them the chance to learn how to cook and be creative. It’s giving them the chance to help the community, bring up their self-esteem, and also see our hardships, and hopefully not end up in the same position,” Gummy Bear said. “I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to go hungry. I’ve been here the last three years and there’s not a day in Ashland that I’ve gone hungry.”
Jason and his wife, Vanessa Houk, also a board member, are prominent figures in the volunteer world of Ashland. They, along with other organizers, pushed to supply the community meals daily because the winter shelter has changed to a more selective model this year.
“Although we support that program, the winter shelter isn’t feeding people the way it normally does. There’s about 40-60 people that aren’t getting fed,” Jason said. “We can’t provide shelter for everyone, but we can provide food.”
Any leftovers go to the winter shelter, Jason said.
Brianna Smeltz said she is a winter shelter guest this year.
“I just recently became homeless in the last month and (the meals) mean everything to me. I don’t have to worry. I know I’m not going to go hungry,” Smeltz said. “But the thing that means the most to me is that every time I walk through those doors, I know that I’m not going to be judged for being homeless.”
ACPC Executive Director David Wick said ACPC supports the peace meals and helps connect volunteers.
“It’s really powerful to see the young people really accepting their role in creating a culture of peace within the community because that’s where the change in our society is really taking root, the young people,” Wick said.
To donate or volunteer with the community meals, winter shelter or other local causes, call David Wick at 541-552-1061 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.