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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Community Meal: A Happy Meal

While Grinnellians back on campus were waiting in the line at the pasta bar, halal station and plat du jour last Tuesday, a couple blocks south of campus a different kind of meal was taking place.

“It’s an Iowa favorite: Walking Tacos,” said Erica Kwiatkowski ’15, referring to a dish composed of refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, cheese, salsa and sour cream, but no taco shell. “[The name is] because, instead of serving them with the chips on top, they’ll crush up, like, a bag of Doritos and put all the taco stuff into the bag.”

The “deconstructed Walking Tacos,” as Kwiatkowski called them, were served as a part of Community Meal, which provides a free dinner to members of the Grinnell community on Tuesdays at 5:45 p.m. throughout the majority of the calendar year in the cafeteria of the Davis Elementary School.

The Community Meal program was started in 2000, when Dean of Religious Life Deanna Shorb, former Community Service Coordinator, Amy Graves, and current Assistant Director of Service Learning and Engagement Susan Sanning, collaborated with several Grinnell students to develop a group focused on community service. Out of this collaboration came the Social Justice Action Group (SJAG), which has coordinated Community Meal over the subsequent years.

“What we as a group do is we basically, for some meals like this meal, we’ll actually buy all the food, cook all the food, serve all the food, clean up everything. But for most meals during the year, what we do is we help [other groups] serve meals,” said Kwiatkowski, a co-coordinator of SJAG with Rachel Kirk ’14.

The meal is free to all and draws people from all parts of the Grinnell community.

Emily and Tom Moore, residents of Grinnell for the past 33 years, were at the meal this Tuesday. For them, the meals are an opportunity to make connections.

“The ‘Community Meal’—the ‘community’ part is really fun. Just to meet new people that you haven’t seen or have seen, but never really met,” Mr. Moore said.

Although many students on campus may not know it, there is a significant population in Grinnell who rely on resources like Community Meal and Mid-Iowa Community Action, Inc. (MICA) to live.

According to MICA’s 2012 Head Start Community Assessment, 17 percent of Grinnell’s population lived in poverty.

This statistic is well above the 11.9 percent rate for all of Iowa from 2007-2011, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Being able to do service work that has a genuine effect on the lives of people in the community has made the experience especially important for Kwiatkowski and Kirk, who have both been involved with Community Meal since they were second-years.

For Kwiatkowski, the desire to get involved stemmed out of her interest in social justice, something she feels should be a bigger part of the experience of most Grinnellians.

“Kind of looking back after the end of [first] year, I was like, well, I did school and I made friends, but I didn’t really feel like I had made a difference,” she said. “I don’t think a ton of Grinnell College students really take advantage of the opportunities that they have to make a change.”

Kirk emphasized how her involvement with Community Meal has helped her extend her college experience beyond the boundaries of Grinnell’s campus.

“Just physically leaving is important,” she said. “I really appreciated being able to get to know the town a little bit … I like talking to people who aren’t 18 to 22. And not eating in the Dining Hall. It was just, I guess, a good change of pace.”

To Shorb, Community Meal offers the chance to not only do something good for the community, but to do something good for oneself.

“The life of the mind is important, right? It’s the business we’re in. However, slipping away for a couple of hours a week to engage on a different, human, one-on-one and community level, I think, is an integral part of the Grinnell College education,” Shorb said. “And this is just one of many community service opportunities that would provide our students with that while they’re here for four years. I really encourage it.”

Students interested in volunteering and any groups who would like to host a Community Meal should contact Kirk at

Community members mingle over "Walking Tacos" on Tuesday. (Aniqa Rahman)
Community members mingle over “Walking Tacos” on Tuesday. (Aniqa Rahman)


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