After a block’s worth of student concerns on CC Confessions, Yik Yak, and passing conversation regarding the administration’s lack of consistent communication with the student body, students and now the homeless of Colorado Springs have yet another grievance to add to the list.
This week, Leadership Development Coordinator and Food Coalition Advisor Adison Quin Petti received word from his supervisor, Associate Dean of Faculty Mike Siddoway, that the soup kitchen would be closed by Nov. 16, 2014.
“I’m in a difficult position. I feel a responsibility to communicate why this decision was made and where it is coming from, but haven’t been given a lot of information to offer yet,” said Petti. “It’s been a challenge to identify concrete reasons for the closure or where this push is coming from. ”
Students attending Monday’s open RotarAct meeting voiced their surprise and outrage at the lack of transparency in the college’s decision.
“What is most unnerving is that people, the students, the guests at the kitchen, are not able to direct our letters and opinions to the right administrative people because we just don’t know,” said junior Michelle Cully. “Is this confidential information? Should it be?”
Three of the voices heard at Monday’s meeting included the co-chairs of the Colorado Springs Food Rescue, which, since their establishment last year, has had remarkable success in delivery thousands of pounds of leftover food from Rastall Dining Hall to local food shelters in the city.
“Our first primary demand is to keep the kitchen open until the administration helps us find an alternative,” said CSFR co-chair Shane Lory. “We can’t just lie down, accept that it’s closing, and lose the opportunity to speak for the community.”
Petti openly explained three potential reasons that were given for closing the kitchen: heavy, unsustainable demands on the physical Shove Chapel space, safety concerns around inviting the homeless or transient community on college property, and lack of student involvement in the kitchen each week.
“I understand the physical demands on Shove and agree with the need to re-locate kitchen operations accordingly,” said Petti. “And although there are always safety concerns involved with any demographic, I was not cited a specific, threat-to-safety incident that would require the kitchen to close right now.”
Petti did acknowledge a minor incident during the summer in which a guest volunteer exhibited mildly inappropriate behavior toward one of the kitchen’s student managers, but noted that hy took “immediate steps to speak with that individual and implement kitchen wide training solutions to create a safe and inclusive environment for students and guests.”
In the past year, Petti has supported a total of six student interns to improve kitchen workflows and programming, Post has proposed a Community Based Learning adjunct in conjunction with the Community Kitchen, and an overwhelming number of volunteers attend and sometimes get turned away from working at the kitchen due to excess volunteers.
When Petti, a CC alum and formerly homeless youth in Colorado Springs joined the Collaborative for Community Engagement in 2012, hy recognized the need for improvements at the Community Kitchen and drafted a three-year strategic plan to develop an innovative internship training program and implement new programs in food justice and arts for social change.
The plan went largely ignored by the administration, and now will be stopped 18 months prior to its completion date without any advance notice.
“I wanted to increase student participation, as well as their engagement with issues of poverty, hunger, and homelessness,” said Petti. “It was also important to me that we focus on building relationships with guests, since we invite them as neighbors in our community their engagement with our guests who we invite here as our neighbors.
“Because of the turnover in our office, no one was really watching or invested in this plan to see where it was going,” said Petti. “To say someone approved or even took a serious look at this plan would be inaccurate. I recognized the need and so started to work on it right away. “
According to Petti, the Community Kitchen has served upwards of 200 people each Sunday for more than 22 years. Until recently, when the Marian House in Colorado Springs began serving the homeless all seven days of the week, the Community Kitchen was the only soup kitchen to serve on Sundays.
“Yes, the Marian House serves on Sundays now, but that narrative that we thus do not have to serve people is sort of a distraction,” said CSFR co-chair Jeremy Flood. “They push their limits to provide infrastructure to feed people and often run out of food before people get fed.”
On Sunday, there will be a Speak Out outside of Shove Chapel from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. during which students and guests of the Community Kitchen will speak, attendees will be able to ask questions, food will be served, and student bands will play.
“If this is going to be an effective means of voicing our concerns, we must question the administration’s decisions and why they won’t communicate the reasons for those decisions,” said Lory.