Serving the community six feet apart
Senior capstone students spearhead service projects for academic credit despite pandemic
A group of 10 senior capstone students at Saint Michael’s College have harnessed the spirit of community and togetherness in the midst of an isolating pandemic this fall semester. Led by Amy Redman, adjunct professor of sociology and anthropology, the students participated in a series of service learning projects centered on food insecurity and the environment.
“What are we going to do that’s meaningful and build community with each other in this wild time?” questioned Redman at the onset of the semester. While concocting the theme of this fall’s capstone project, the adjunct professor strived to find a safe environment outdoors that would allow for a community service opportunity. This led to the undertaking of two service learning projects over two days – one at the New Community Project in Starksboro, and the other at the Brush Brook Farm in Huntington, both in Vermont and reasonably close to campus.
At the New Community Project, which had previously partnered with Saint Michael’s through the Campus Ministry MOVE Program and was a ready-made connection, students harvested potatoes that were used for a food share, allowing families facing food insecurity to have access to food. The farm, filled with cattle, sheep, and plenty of vegetables, gave students the opportunity to participate in a gift-based economy. They were divided into three focus groups, each focusing on processing vegetables, cooking soup that would then be donated, and working on burdock. “Nothing can hold them back from being so generous and giving, and it really highlighted the cultural ethos of the students,” Redman said.
According to its website, Brush Brook Community Farm and Bakery “is home to a burgeoning Agricultural Gift Economy located in Huntington, Vermont. As an environmental initiative, the Farm’s mission is aimed at reawakening the mutually sustaining relationships between humans and the natural world. The Farm employs sustainable, cooperative, and deeply local growing and gleaning practices to procure food which is given away as gifts.”
The opportunity to provide resources to people facing food insecurity had proven to be a transformative experience for students. “At the New Community Project, it was amazing to witness, and be a part of, the process that was harvesting food for those that are unable to provide it for themselves,” said Geraldine Elsinga ’21, a senior sociology and anthropology capstone student. “Places like these provide assurance for those who need it most, as these unprecedented times breed food insecurity for many families.”
Given the restrictions of COVID-19, students were compliant with and embraced all health and safety protocols. “The students taught me what 100 percent compliance is,” Redman said. Everyone was knowledgeable of the regulations, and had already been compliant on campus. This compliance was carried throughout the entirety of the capstone project, as everyone wore facial coverings and maintained six-foot social distancing at all times. “Saint Michael’s College students are so thoughtful about the world around them, that it felt more normal than I would have anticipated,” she said. Redman regards their conscientious compliance as a testament to the unifying, selfless spirit of the College community.
Though COVID-19 has bred much difficulty in interpersonal communication, the senior sociology and anthropology capstone students of Saint Michael’s College have proven that when serving the community, no amount of distance can stop them.