by Rebecca Rhodin
Hospitality management students are helping to fight hunger, and not just in the usual way of serving restaurant food.
Students from Montgomery County Community College bundled up in jackets and gloves to volunteer on two Saturdays in November. They sorted frozen meats in a refrigerator-cold warehouse at Philabundance, the region’s biggest hunger relief agency.
Although the students earned an incentive — the chance to drop a low grade in Instructor Jim Lynch’s class — there were also deeper rewards: the good feeling of volunteering, sometimes for the first time, and of bonding with fellow students.
“It was really fun — I’d love to do it again,” says Aubrey Maxwell, 18, of Telford. “Everyone came from different places and everyone was helping each other. I met people from school who I hadn’t really talked to before.”
The service learning initiative to help the hungry was headed up by Lynch, who took a total of 15 students to the chilly Philabundance warehouse in South Philadelphia. They spent three hours sorting 4,000 pounds of meat, much of it donated by stores such as Acme, Giant and Trader Joe’s, which flash-freeze cuts that are nearing their expiration dates.
“A big chunk of what we do is food-related,” says Lynch, who calls himself “a huge proponent of volunterrism.” “We’re intimately involved with food, so there’s a lot we can do to relieve hunger.”
It’s true that life for the College’s hospitality students often centers around food.
The program offers a practical education in the management of food and beverages, sanitation and safety, culinary arts, special events, and hotels and casinos. Those are careers that Lynch and his students love, despite their grueling reputation.
Jacqueline Pileggi, 20, of Lansdale, who wants to own a pizza restaurant someday and currently works in one, says she likes the fast pace, getting to know the customers, and “anything that has to do with food. I like all aspects of restaurant work.”
“Cooking is cool because you can make something and also find ways to make it better through modifications,” says Pileggi.
Lynch himself fell in love with the industry at age 14, when he washed dishes in a Chestnut Hill restaurant to save money for a car “and never missed a day in three years.” He says he liked the frenetic atmosphere and both the characters he worked with and those who came in to eat.
“The dishwasher is an unappreciated yet important part of a restaurant,” comments Lynch. “I tell students, make sure you take care of the dishwashers. They can make or break you. And the waiters — treat them with respect, and they’ll have your back.”
Since his strenuous first job, Lynch has had a free-ranging career as a corporate executive chef, manager for a party caterer, general manager of a country club, and senior manager at Philabundance, among other posts.
Now he is “an amazing professor. He helps us connect everything,” Maxwell says. “He takes us on tours of hotels and clubs. It’s just awesome.”
Maxwell says she is leaning toward a career in hotel management, although at a restaurant like the one where she works at a Holiday Inn, “I like the customers, making a connection with people. It’s nice to get to know them.”
She appreciates that the Philabundance food “was all donated by restaurants and businesses. It just shows that the people running restaurants are willing to give up some of their profit for a good cause. They’re generous.”
Pileggi notes that “it helps people and at the same time you get to meet kids from other schools.” Although it was her only day off from work that week, in perhaps a typical restaurant-employee experience, “it was all right. It wasn’t a big deal.”
Human services student Khrystal Lennon, 32, as Lynch’s service learning scholar, is publicizing the volunteer effort by taking pictures, making up flyers to post on campus, and advertising it online.
This wasn’t her first volunteer experience; Lennon is involved with several agencies, including Americorps and Relay for Life. She says she hopes it will set a good example for her four children in “how to give back.”
“I felt good about it. I’m going back to volunteer this Saturday,” she said. “It’s fun and for a good cause. You feel happy doing it.”
Photos by Khrystal Lennon