Catholic parish’s volunteer ‘Grandmas’ feed Penn Yan teens - Catholic Courier

Catholic parish’s volunteer ‘Grandmas’ feed Penn Yan teens

Students at Penn Yan Academy sure have a lot of grandmothers.

Twice a week during the winter months, the high-school students can take advantage of Grandma’s Kitchen, a program through which community volunteers provide healthy after-school snacks. The program is a partnership between the Penn Yan Central School District and a number of community organizations and churches, including Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community.

“It originally started out for kids that didn’t have food at home, … but there’s no way you can say only those kids can come through the line,” remarked Anne Meyer-Wilber, who coordinates the group of Grandma’s Kitchen volunteers from Our Lady of the Lakes.

Grandma’s Kitchen also is popular with teens who are staying after school for extra academic help or for sports practices and who might otherwise seek out vending machines or leave the school campus in search of snacks, she said.

Parish volunteers assemble 125 bagged lunches

Groups of volunteers from various churches and community organizations take turns providing the food for Grandma’s Kitchen, and each group approaches the task differently, Meyer-Wilber said. On their assigned days to provide food, the volunteers from Our Lady of the Lakes gather in Penn Yan in the kitchen of the parish center at St. Michael Church, which is one of Our Lady of the Lakes’ three worship sites. After donning gloves, the volunteers work together to make 125 sandwiches.

Most of the sandwiches are of the peanut butter and jelly variety, but the volunteers also make some cheese sandwiches for students who may have nut allergies or don’t like peanut butter and jelly, Meyer-Wilber said. The sandwiches are wrapped and put into bag lunches along with carrot and celery sticks, homemade cookies, small pieces of individually wrapped candy and a fruit, usually either a clementine or an apple. Each bag also receives a note that reads, “You are special. You make a difference. From St. Michael’s Grandmas.”

“We try to … have the kids know that we care and that God loves them. We put our hands out and bless the food,” Meyer-Wilber said.

It only takes the 10 or so volunteers about an hour and 20 minutes to put together all 125 bag lunches, she added.

Then they take the bags up to Penn Yan Academy, where they are set out on tables for students to grab after their classes are done for the day.

“Last time, they were all gone within about 10 minutes,” Meyer-Wilber said.

COVID-19 pandemic brought about a change in Grandma’s Kitchen

The grab-and-go distribution represents a significant departure from the way Grandma’s Kitchen initially operated, she added.

When the group from Our Lady of the Lakes first began volunteering about nine years ago, the volunteers were preparing and serving hot foods. The volunteers would make everything from spaghetti and meatballs to beef and noodle casserole in their own homes, then meet at Penn Yan Academy at 1:30, Meyer-Wilber recalled.

“We’d bring the crock pots in, re-plug them in and set pans on the table. At 2:20, the kids (would) start coming and lining up,” she said.

In March 2020, however, COVID-19 abruptly pulled the plug on Grandma’s Kitchen. The program did not restart until the 2022-23 school year, but Grandma’s Kitchen 2.0 now only features cold foods and bagged lunches. Many of the volunteers — and all of the St. Michael’s grandmas — are senior citizens and no longer feel comfortable serving the food in the school, Meyer-Wilber said. The bagged-lunch model was a nice compromise, she added.

“I’m glad that (the program) has kept going. I’m sad that we aren’t in person, but I’m glad we found a way to do it and still be connected,” Meyer-Wilber said.

Program paved way for connections between students and volunteers, churches

The interactions with the students had been volunteers’ favorite part of Grandma’s Kitchen in the days before COVID, she added. The grandmas had enjoyed hearing the teens’ exclamations of delight when they noticed that snickerdoodles were on that day’s menu, for example, or being able to wish student athletes luck before big games.

“I think the kids liked having that connection too,” Meyer-Wilber said. “That’s why the little note goes in the bags now. It’s a nice way for we grandmas to say we care about you kids, and we’re still here.”

The program also creates a connection between the teens and the church communities in the area, she added.

“For our youth, this is a chance to see what their church is doing,” she said.

Tags: COVID-19 Pandemic, Faith in Action, Yates County News
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