Eleanor, Josh, Erin and Riley Andrews serve food to residents at the Hope Center in Stevens Point.
Spending two hours making and serving a spaghetti meal to more than 30 residents at The Salvation Army's Hope Center in Stevens Point last month was an eye-opening experience for members of the Andrews family, United Way of Portage County's 2013 Campaign Drive Chair Family.
"I'm never going to take food and shelter for granted again," said Riley Andrews, a sixth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School in Plover. "It taught me that much."
His mother, Erin, said she and her husband, Ryan, wanted the Campaign Drive Chair experience to be a learning opportunity for their children. "We wanted to make sure our kids knew what they were working to raise money for," she said. "We thought the best way to do that would be to see hands-on the different programs the United Way supports."
Shortly after taking over the Campaign Drive Chair duties in January, Erin and Ryan went through a list of all the programs the United Way supports and asked their children which ones they really wanted to explore or know more about. "They all put the Hope Center at the top of their list," said Erin.
The Hope Center, 1600 Briggs St., assists needy families and individuals with shelter, food, clothing and other emergency needs, acting as Portage County's only homeless shelter. United Way of Portage County is providing $132,000 of support to the Hope Center in 2013, which is about 40 percent of the shelter's operating budget.
Upon arriving at the Hope Center at 4 p.m., the Andrews family discovered they needed to work quickly in order to be ready for the 5:30 p.m. spaghetti meal. They had to cut, butter and warm up garlic bread; boil noodles; heat up the sauce and prepare sausage for it; and ready the serving area with salad, desserts and other meal amenities.
Only one of the three Andrews children had any kind of cooking experience. Josh, an eighth-grader, said he enjoys cooking, and has done so at home for his younger siblings. Cooking a meal for other people was a neat experience, and one that played out differently than he had expected.
"I liked to see the enthusiasm of the residents," he said. "I thought not many people would be happy there, but it ended up being a fun experience with everybody being really nice."
His younger sister, Eleanor, a third-grader, said she wants to repeat the experience. "I felt like I was helping more of the community than I usually do. I would love to go back and cook more because it was a really fun experience," she said.
In addition to providing the educational opportunity she and Ryan were hoping for, the volunteer effort included an added benefit for the children. "Quite frankly, to be a kid and make a meal that adults compliment them on is the coolest thing," said Erin. "It's empowering for them, too."
Dana Kaminski, Hope Center director of Housing & Case Management, said the Hope Center welcomes other volunteers. She said they help prepare and serve nearly every dinner meal. All the food and shelter supplies are provided through donations, although she said the shelter can always use more milk and dish towels. To learn more, call the Hope Center at 715-341-2437.
United Way is working to inspire hope and create opportunities for a better tomorrow by focusing on the building blocks for a better life - education, income, and health. Everyone in the community is invited to be a part of this effort. Give, advocate, and volunteer. LIVE UNITED. To learn more, visit unitedwaypoco.org.