As part of the Food for Thought Springboard class, Elijah Brown ’22 and Darren Blocker ’22 had to come up with a final project that they could care deeply about and that also connected to the topic of food. They found their inspiration in the Mercersburg Academy dining hall.
Every evening when Brown and Blocker returned their trays after dinner, they would see the leftover food from the day’s meal. Through their Springboard class, they learned about the local food pantry My Neighbor’s Bounty, which provides food for families in need in the borough of Mercersburg and surrounding areas.
“We came up with this project after we visited My Neighbor’s Bounty on a class trip,” says Blocker. “We figured that we could package the leftover dining hall food and bring it to the pantry.”
With their goal in mind, the students got to work. “After we started the project, we started taking notes and researching about food waste and watching videos about food waste to get an idea of what we could do,” says Brown. “Then, after that, our teachers, Ms. [Michele] Poacelli and Ms. [Maggie] Howes, put us in touch with Mr. [Will] Willis and Ms. [Emily] Parsons and Mr. [Bill] Korhammer later on.”
Parsons, the school’s director of community engagement, helped the students forge a relationship with My Neighbor’s Bounty. Willis, the director of environmental initiatives, gave them a sense of the recycling and sustainability projects Mercersburg currently has in place, and Korhammer, the director of dining services, helped them understand what would be needed to work with the Meriwether Godsey dining hall staff to package the food. Then, Brown and Blocker had to research the laws and regulations related to food safety.
Once they got their project up and running in March, Brown and Blocker and other students packaged leftover food in the dining hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays to freeze for transportation to My Neighbor’s Bounty, and Parsons then took the frozen food to the pantry for distribution to the community on Fridays.
“The most exciting or rewarding thing was learning after the first time we packaged the food that it was gone immediately and everybody loved it,” says Blocker.
Every aspect of this project–even the packaging of food–has become a community affair at the Academy. “That first day we started out [packaging in the dining hall], we only had Darren and me and some people from our class,” Brown says. “But over time, Ms. Parsons and other people spread the word and the students who will take over next year said that they thought it was a really good idea and they wanted to help, and then it just became a chain. When people saw us in the back [of the dining hall] helping, more people wanted to help, and it just built up.”
And the chain will keep going into the 2022-2023 school year. Zane Arky ’23, Luke Golumbic ’23, Zeke Wadlington ’23, and Chuks Ugori ’23 will step up to take over the leadership of the project, Korhammer and the dining hall staff are on board to continue, and Willis has offered the support and budget of the Green Team–the Academy’s student environmental group.
“It is very effective and the people in the community appreciate it,” says Brown. “There’s also a lot of food that is being saved. Just in the first part of the spring term, we saved about 400 pounds of food. Imagine next year and in future years to come when everything is more organized, and we have the whole year: it could be four or five times that amount at the end of the year.”
“We couldn’t be more proud of Darren and Elijah,” says Poacelli. “They used their natural leadership skills to create a system for turning food excess at Mercersburg Academy into ready-to-eat meals for the local community. They identified a problem, posed a creative solution, and got the student community on board to fuel and sustain the system they created. I appreciate that when given the capstone opportunity to create any project, Darren and Elijah chose to take action to benefit others. This speaks volumes about their character and values.”
Although both Brown and Blocker are now headed to the next chapter of their lives after Mercersburg–Brown to the U.S. Naval Academy and Blocker to play basketball and study finance and business management in college–both still plan to check in on the project they launched for the Academy and surrounding community.
“I would not say I’m going to have an active part in it next year, but I will be checking to see how much food they package and if there are any problems,” says Blocker.
“I will definitely stay in touch,” says Brown. “In addition to [the new student leaders] being the next people to take over with the system we have put in place, they are also my friends outside of that, so I will definitely stay in touch and come back and visit when I can.”