Service And Sustenance

After graduating from Grand Valley State University, April Meyers had a simple yet noble goal: land a job in Metro Detroit where she could use her skills to help others. While fellow students chose to move to larger cities with more opportunities for graduates, Meyers decided to return and make a difference.
She saw the AmeriCorps VISTA program not only as a means to fulfill her desire to help others, but also as a way to establish her professional roots in Metro Detroit. The program placed Meyers at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, where this spring she will unveil a campus food pantry and a partnership with an urban community garden.
"A lot of people I've worked with are food insecure, but it's a sensitive topic so people just don't talk about it," says Meyers.
Originally from Novi, Meyers graduated GVSU in May 2010 with a degree in public and nonprofit administration. She first entertained the thought of a career in social services while overseeing mission trips as an intern with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. She witnessed the enormous impact that the mission volunteers made in the lives of others, and was inspired to pursue a similar path.
Meyers connected with the Michigan Campus Compact (MCC) VISTA program, which tasks members with building sustainable programs to link universities and students with their local communities. MCC has 31 higher education affiliates, including Schoolcraft College, where Meyers was placed as a project coordinator.
"We are put on campus to aid in service initiatives and to integrate students and faculty with non-profits in the community," says Meyers. "We implement service learning in the real world, which benefits the university, non-profits and the community."

When you consider Schoolcraft's growing reputation for its food and culinary programs, Meyers' efforts make perfect sense. Though her day-to-day responsibilities revolve around helping faculty implement service learning into their curriculum, she was struck with the idea of creating a campus food bank during a VISTA leadership retreat.
"Others were discussing food pantries at their schools, and I knew it would work at Schoolcraft," says Meyers, who cites Michigan State University and Delta College as others who have campus food pantries. There are a significant number of students who are homeless or food insecure here."

Food insecurity, or lacking access to enough food to fully meet basic needs due to financial reasons, is on the rise across the country. In 2009, the USDA estimated that 14.7 percent of U.S. households were food insecure, the highest recorded rate since the survey was first conducted in 1995.
"Statistics specific to Schoolcraft are difficult to collect," says Meyers. "But judging from what I've heard from faculty and students, it will definitely be utilized."
The food pantry will be located in a 20' by 15' former storage room on campus, and after Meyers completes her year of VISTA service, Schoolcraft honors program students will manage everything from collecting data and keeping records to staffing the pantry. Meyers says there won't be a screening process; food will be available to any students and their family members who express a need.
"Right now we're working on collecting donations and building a database of students who will use it," says Meyers, who expects the pantry to open in mid-March. "I'm hoping that in the next few months, we'll be able to build our resources as people are generous with donations, rather than having to rely on grants."
Meyers had also wanted to pursue an urban garden for the college. She had already created a proposal when staff from Madonna University, also located in Livonia, approached Schoolcraft about partnering in a community garden initiative. Madonna had applied for a $25,000 grant through the MCC program, which it intended to put toward a community garden. It made sense for the two universities, separated by less than 5 miles, to partner on the initiative.
"We had been talking about ways to be more sustainable, which meets one of our core values of having reverence for creation," says Olga Martinez, director for the office of service learning at Madonna University. "We received LEED certifications and wanted to do more than just recycling and reusing."
Livonia's Greenmead Historical Park donated two 25' by 25' plots, and the garden is expected to be ready for planting this spring. The intent is for one of the plots to be organic, and both will serve as teaching gardens. Both schools will share responsibility in managing the gardens.
"It's not just for Schoolcraft or Madonna," says Martinez. "It's for the community."
Martinez envisions environmental sciences students collecting soil samples, nutrition students learning about locally grown food and sociology students conducting needs assessments on food insecurity in the community. "It's about more than volunteering," says Martinez. "It's about changing the way we look at things."
Food from the garden could even be harvested to supply to local food pantries like the one at Schoolcraft.  For now, Meyers is taking the initiatives to fight hunger one step at a time, as she does her part to improve the region she loves.
"Detroit is my home," says Meyers. "I'm lucky to be able to use the skills I learned in college to help improve the place where I grew up."

Kelly Quintanilla also writes for Rapid Growth and lives the dream as the Microbrew Editor for Revue, among other assorted marketing and communication pursuits. Her previous article for Metromode was Confessions Of A Hollywood Extra.

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All Photos by David Lewinski Photography
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