Students skip books to help out at feast

18th annual Project Feast lets young volunteers give to the community

November 23, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

Instead of scalpels, University of Maryland medical students picked up spatulas and ladles yesterday. They served hot turkey, mashed potatoes and vegetables to about 300 people at a Thanksgiving dinner at a West Baltimore middle school.

The event, called Project Feast, is an 18-year holiday tradition for students. With the stress of schoolwork and exams, students said they sometimes forget about the surrounding community and poor people.

"We're students stuck in the books," said Sarah Bui, a second-year medical student who co-coordinated this year's Project Feast. "This is just a way to give back to the community."

To promote healthful living, the students also handed out bags filled with toothpaste, lip balm, shampoo, hand sanitizer and a list of telephone numbers for health clinics and crisis centers. They also distributed clothing, canned food and other donated items to those who attended the event.

Medical students said that meeting people in the community was a valuable lesson for them.

"It's better for us to reach out to them," said Amanda Stevens, a fourth-year medical student. "We're students in white coats with privileged upbringings. ... Anytime you can get a glimpse of how they live on a day-to-day basis, it helps to better care for patients and understand them."

Students arrived at the Booker T. Washington Middle School early yesterday morning to help cafeteria manager Sheila Travers chop and stir. Travers and the students used 1,000 pounds of turkey and 120 pounds of green beans and corn to prepare the meals.

"For this one day, no matter who you are, you should get a decent meal," Travers said as she vigorously whisked a bowl of gravy. "You never know, one day I might be in the line. I want someone to do the same thing for me."

Her kitchen was bustling with volunteers, including some students from the university's dental, law, nursing and social work schools. Volunteers crammed into an assembly line, scooping gravy, stuffing and green beans onto plates. Others walked around the cafeteria cleaning tables and handing out slices of sweet potato and pumpkin pie to diners.

Jennie Hart, a second-year medical student and a co-coordinator of the event, raced around retrieving napkins and utensils people requested.

"Since we're in the middle of the inner city, there's a high population of people that need help," Hart said. "Even seeing it every day, you forget how fortunate you are."

Michael Brown, who was once homeless, said he appreciated the volunteers' efforts. After finishing his Thanksgiving meal, he said, "Thank God people have a place to eat. I wish they could do this all year."

For Nicole Collins and her family, Project Feast is a Thanksgiving tradition. They have attended the annual event since the 24-year-old Collins was a student at the middle school. Four generations of her family sat at a cafeteria table enjoying their meal.

"We've got food at home, but we love coming here," Collins said as she finished a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy. "We eat here and have Thanksgiving together."

Her 72-year-old grandmother, Ruth Collins, added, "I ain't doing no cooking today. I'm gonna eat what I got."

Project Feast was one of several Thanksgiving dinners around Baltimore yesterday. The 26th annual Bea Gaddy's Thanks for Giving Dinner was also held at the Patterson Park Recreation Center, where volunteers served meals to hundreds of people, an organizer said.

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