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Other students were surprised when Kist-
hardt told them that clients can only visit the
food cupboard once a month. “What do they
eat the rest of the month?” they wondered. “So
they’re starting to think,” Kisthardt said of her
class. “We’re going to be asking lots of hard ques-
tions,” she said. “How can you be working, and
working maybe two jobs, or two people in your
household working, and you still can’t make it?
What’s going on?”
Kisthardt wants these questions to linger
in students’ minds without being resolved too
quickly. “That’s one of the biggest developmental
shifts they’re going to be making in the next
couple of years, post-high school—recognizing
that there’s complexity, and it’s OK to examine
the complexity and not try to say, ‘This is it. This
is what we can do or should do,’” Kisthardt said.
“Some issues are complicated, and there aren’t
easy answers. You draw your conclusions and you
do the best you can.”
To facilitate careful consideration of these
issues, Kisthardt asks her students to write reflec-
tions of their experiences at the food cupboard.
Some students wrote about feeling a little ap-
prehensive before meeting the clients.
“I made these assumptions based on what I
have seen on television shows and movies that
portray hungry and lower-income people as
wandering animals rather than humans,” said one
student. Another commented, “I was expecting
these people to be quiet, shy, and even mean.
However, it was the complete opposite; they were
nice and very thankful for the help. It was very
easy to talk to them, and I was very grateful for
the experience. It reassures me how lucky I am to
have the life I have, but also this experience reas-
sured me not to judge a book by its cover.”
“It’s primary research,” Kisthardt said. It
requires students to interact with people affected
by poverty, to learn about them firsthand in order
to supplement their readings on the subject.
Kisthardt hopes that the experiences her students
have at the food cupboard will change their per-
ceptions more deeply and more permanently than
merely reading articles about hunger. “They’re
more active, they’re more involved,” she said.
Kisthardt is also involving her students in
coordinating the Empty Bowls event on campus.
They are helping to advertise the dinner, gather-
ing disposable bowls and spoons, and writing
persuasive letters to local businesses asking for
donations of raffle items and soup. Even these
activities help strengthen students’ analytical and
“How you present yourself is important,” she
told her students as they discussed how to write
the letters to area companies. “What information
[do people] need to know? It’s a class about being
able to solve communication problems. And you
can’t do that if you can’t get into the head of the
person that you’re trying to communicate with.”
Throughout all of these assignments, Kisthardt
is helping her students to analyze social justice is-
sues and articulate their ideas. Though the subject
matter can be weighty at times, Kisthardt is glad
to see how students are benefitting. “I’m not try-
ing to bring them down,” she said. “I’m trying to
raise them up to be thinking about higher issues,
and think about society around them.”
THEY’RE MORE ACTIVE,
THEY’RE MORE INVOLVED.