by Krissy Scommegna
Making the conscious effort to stick around Boston and be a part of the community isn’t necessarily what every Friedman student is looking for. Some see their time in Boston/Somerville/Cambridge as a stop on the way to their next big thing. However, taking the time early on to invest and become rooted here can open doors to incredible opportunities. Krissy Scommegna talks about how a class at Friedman led to finding an internship and eventually to her appointment as the Director of the Somerville Backpack Program
It’s a typical Friday morning during the school year and at 5:45 am, my phone is gently reminding me that it is time to get up, down a few mugs of coffee, and jump on the orange line to East Somerville to make a few hundred sandwiches. Not what you expected as the classic graduate student experience? Me neither. Shockingly, graduate school is not all grabbing evening beers and having deep discussions about Farm Bill appropriations (sorry, first years!).
The truth is, I wouldn’t be getting up at such an unsightly hour on a day I didn’t have class if it weren’t for Food Justice, an Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) class I took last fall that is cross-registered with the Friedman School. I fell hard and fast for the mission of the two organizations myself and five other students were assigned to work with that semester. My experiences working with Food For Free and the Somerville Backpack Program have considerably shaped my time in Boston, making it clear that Friedman was the right choice for me. Not only did the class help me secure a great internship, I landed a really incredible job.
Food For Free is a Cambridge-based food rescue organization that takes food that would otherwise be wasted and redistributes it to over 100 food programs and agencies throughout Boston’s emergency food system. As a group, we helped Food For Free develop the framework for an Emergency Meal Program for feeding students in crisis.
As the semester drew to a close, I knew I wasn’t ready to be done with this work. I asked Ross Richmond, Food For Free’s Community Partnership Manager, if I could stick around and work with him on the program for my Friedman internship. He obliged and from January to August, we piloted the Family Meals Program at Food For Free, taking leftover prepared foods from Harvard and Tufts dining halls, repacking the food into individual meals, and distributing the meals to people in need. Ross and I spent countless hours in a kitchen smashing up frozen blocks of rice with hammers, prying apart pieces of frozen roasted chicken with crow bars, and agonizing over the most appealing way to package and label the Family meals. Together, we produced somewhere close to 8,000 meals.
In looking for communities that would benefit most from ready-to-eat frozen meals, Food For Free became part of the Feastworthy coalition. This meant our Family Meals would go to feeding homeless families living in the State’s motel shelter system in Brighton. Feastworthy was made possible by the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Action for Boston Community Development’s Neighborhood Opportunity Center and their Motel Support Services, and Charlesview Inc. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program also administered a study that tracked the health outcomes associated with program participation. Working with these different organizations was an incredible learning experience and I was able to understand just how difficult, but rewarding, it is to accomplish a task while staying true to the missions of five different stakeholders.
So what does this have to do with making sandwiches? Well, along with working at Food For Free, Ross Richmond founded the Somerville Backpack Program (SBP) in 2014, a program that provides students in need in Somerville with breakfast, lunch, and snacks on the weekend so that they are able to return to school at the start of the week ready to learn. I started volunteering each week with SBP, packing up bags of food, making too many sandwiches to count (actually – we did count and volunteers made 7,485 sandwiches over the whole school year), and connecting with parents and members of the Somerville community.
Students that participate in SBP are kids who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs and have difficulty getting enough to eat on the weekend. Each week, these students are sent home with a bag containing yogurt, oatmeal, two sandwiches, cheese sticks, applesauce, and two pieces of fruit. Last year SBP served an average of 131 kids a week at eight Somerville schools. At the end of the school year, SBP provided food for upwards of 171 students. Over the 2015-2016 school year, 5,260 bags of weekend food were sent home with kids.
There is something meditative about spending an hour or two after a long week of school putting two slices of turkey and a piece of cheese between wheat bread two hundred times in a row. That is what the Somerville Backpack Program became for me—a way to become a part of Somerville’s food assistance community and get outside of my graduate student bubble and mindset.
Ross and I became close friends, and when he and his wife were asked to relocate to Los Angeles for her job, he looked to me to continue his program. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. So… I’m excited to say that I am the new Director of the Somerville Backpack Program. I really couldn’t be more thrilled about this new adventure and getting the chance to provide food for kids that really need it.
This year, we hope to expand our reach and provide food to 300 students in all elementary and middle schools in Somerville. In the fall, students from the Food Justice course will be working with SBP to develop an assessment tool to analyze food insecurity, specifically at the individual school level, to see if we are appropriately addressing need and proposing additional ways to help provide food for Somerville families. I hope to engage students here at Friedman, too; I’ll be organizing a sandwich-making afternoon one Thursday a month (details forthcoming).
Making sandwiches for Somerville students and putting together Family Meals are a bit different from my previous life of working as a chef in Northern California where I spent my evenings rolling out sheets of fresh pasta and plating up shrimp salpićon. Though it all boils down to one point. I’m realizing more and more that my passion is feeding people in any way I can. With one year at Friedman behind me and one more ahead, I’m finding a myriad of ways to make this happen.
Friedman has this incredible way of connecting you with opportunities and experiences you didn’t realize you needed or wanted. I came to school to move away from kitchen work, but the reality is that cooking is what I love and will always be a part of the work that I do. While I hope it becomes a secondary pursuit to a future in agriculture policy, I know my desire to cook for others will never leave me.
So if you have a free Friday morning, stop by Connexion at 149 Broadway in East Somerville (close to the Sullivan Square Orange Line Stop) from 8:45 am till 10:30 am and make some sandwiches, pack up bags, and help feed students at Somerville Public Schools. If you know me, you know there will be some great dance music to get your day started.
Krissy Scommegna is a second year AFE student who struggles to cook for less than 10 at a time. She is constantly thinking about food and if she hasn’t already, will probably try and convince you to volunteer at the Somerville Backpack Program or Food For Free in the near future.