For years, people have been able to make a midday stop at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank for a hot and hearty meal, and recently the decor of the establishment was changed to be equally warm and inviting.
"It was done through a Kenai Peninsula College Student Service Learning Project," said Linda Swarner, executive director of the Food Bank.
Student Service Learning Projects encourage students to contribute volunteer work, or to take on volunteer projects, with non-profit organizations in the community. Swarner said several KPC classes have donated their time to various food bank activities over the years, and the college's art classes are no exception.
In 2005, students in one of art professor Celia Anderson's classes created a large mural logo, which now hangs on the warehouse side of the food bank facing Kalifornsky Beach Road. In 2006, KPC students also created the reader board that now stands along the road in front of the food bank.
"The college has done numerous things for us," Swarner said.
For this year's project, Anderson's students created original watercolor paintings and artwork for the food bank's recently renovated "Fireweed Diner," formerly known as the Soup Kitchen.
"Many of the students' paintings are fireweed-themed or colored," Swarner said.
The art pieces in the Fireweed Diner are: "Fantasy Leaves" by Sherrill Miller, "Kade's Flowers" by Cathy Taylor, "Fireweed Dreams" by Miranda Andrus, "Still life by Fireweed" by Gwen Thomas, "Quaker Oats" by Donna Schwanke, "Feeding Frenzy" by Pam Mersch, "Ghost of Fireweed" by Brandi Henry, "Autumn Fireweed" by Mace Manire, "Spring Dance" by Nicole Hoops, "Callie's Boots" by Zachary Zindel, and "Fire in the Sky" by Amanda Westerfield.
Beyond receiving art work for the diner, Swarner said the project was beneficial because it gave the students a chance to learn about an institution that many of them knew very little about.
"As part of the project I go to their classes and talk to them about the history of the food bank, and tell them who we are and what we do," she said.
Swarner said it was evident from the post-project surveys the students filled out that they had developed a lot more than just artistic abilities from taking part in the project. Several of the surveys indicated the students had never been to the food bank, and "ho-hum" was their initial response to the idea of working with the non-profit.
However, during the project students learned how many people are helped through the food bank, and the surveys indicated a dramatic shift in ideas after the project was complete. According to Swarner, one anonymous student wrote "I have a new understanding on hunger in our area. I realize how much the food bank provides for local kinsmen."
This same student described what they thought the impact of their painting project would be on the diner. The response was "An overwhelming 'welcome,' 'you are safe,' 'you are not alone' feeling is now present in the diner. I'm glad I was part of that."
Swarner said this type of awareness is an invaluable lesson to the students, which is why she hopes their will be more college projects like this one in the future.
"We create an awareness, and involve members of the community who tell their family and friends that it is not a stigma to come to the food bank for lunch. It's open to everybody and there are no income guidelines. People can come in and have a hot meal, a beverage and dessert," she said.
On average, the Fireweed Diner serves between 70 to 130 people per day, which according to Swarner, adds up to serving over 20,000 meals a year.
The Fireweed Diner is open Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information about the food bank call 262-3111.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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