Each Tuesday, volunteers, chefs and visitors gather to serve hot meals to the community. People who are in need of canned goods, a meal, a family of meals, or just to eat with friends, come to sit at the round tables scattered throughout the Freedom Church building. Laughter, good conversations and memories are shared between the volunteers and patrons. That’s part of what makes Cafe Central such a unique place — different races, ages and genders coming to enjoy the gathering.
Adding to the mix of people who come to serve is a rhetoric class at Georgia College. Professor Scott Dillard teaches Service Learning in which students gain knowledge of their community, engage with a broader community (outside of GC), all the while learning how to enhance their communication and speaking skills.
“About seven years ago, we partnered up with Cafe Central and so that’s their one big project,” Dillard said. “They’re doing a number of projects with them. They’re out there every Monday and they help them do all the prep for their services on Tuesday, then they have to put in some hours on Tuesday as well. They also then, in smaller groups, do fundraising projects to support the kitchen. Then individually, they take their public speaking skills out into various communities, whether that’s a home, or somewhere around here, to raise awareness or even more funds or to encourage people to volunteer.”
Originally, Dillard’s students chose their own service learning projects, however, he made a change and decided that the kitchen would be their sole focus.
“This was an issue that I cared about, and so I took it to the students to see if it was a project that they cared about and at that time, they did,” he added.
Dillard and his class went to Ann Bowen, who started Cafe Central, to see what the organization needed, then based on that information, they came up with a plan.
The hands that the students provide while preparing the food with chef Jim Humphries truly make a huge difference. Their efforts not only lessen the time used to prep the hot meals, but they also set up the tables and chairs and help to compile bags of goods to give out the next day.
After all the Monday prep work, students come back Tuesday to give out food and engage with the people their work is affecting.
“It makes it a lot more real,” Dillard said of the students meeting those who come to Cafe Central to eat.
Food insecurity and hunger are issues that students see no matter where they go; it’s not an issue just in Milledgeville and that’s something that Dillard’s class drives home to the students.
By volunteering, the students have a firsthand experience to speak on, evoking their passion. That’s useful when they get together in the small groups to fundraise money and when they write speeches to present to their community of their choice.
“Come and enjoy a meal, enjoy the camaraderie, bring your friends, meet your friends here, make new friends here,” Bowen said.
Dillard and his class use the semester to make a difference for the soup kitchen. Both the students and patrons at Cafe Central are blessed by the presence of one another and students walk away with an experience they can take out into the real world.