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The Scarlet & Black

SJAG wins Ahrens Foundation Award

Reverend+Deanna+Shorb%2C+dean+of+religious+life%2C+and+Nina+Galanter+18+accept+the+Leave+It+Better+Than+You+Found+It+Award+for+their+work+involving+the+community+meal.+Photo+contributed.
Reverend Deanna Shorb, dean of religious life, and Nina Galanter ’18 accept the “Leave It Better Than You Found It” Award for their work involving the community meal. Photo contributed.

In 1993, Claude Ahrens, a playground manufacturer turned benefactor of the Ahrens Park Foundation, gave a speech to the National Recreation and Parks Association in which he told his listeners to “leave the world a better place than you found it.” Now every year on Aug. 18 in honor of his birthday, the Ahrens Family Foundation gives the “Leave It Better Than You Found It” award to a local nonprofit organization that helps the Grinnell community. This year, the award went to Grinnell College’s Social Justice Action Group (SJAG) for their involvement in the Grinnell Community Meal.

The meal was started in 2000 by a group of Grinnell students along with the Rev. Deanna Shorb, dean of religious life and chaplain of Grinnell College. Since then, students have passed the tradition down, along with the responsibility of coordinating and serving the meal. Every Tuesday night at the Davis Elementary School cafeteria, student volunteers gather to chop up vegetables, cook casseroles and serve dinner to community members with food sponsored by a local organization.

Nina Galanter ’18, who has coordinated the meal for multiple semesters, outlined some of the goals and impacts of the community meal. “It helps fight food insecurity, and it also provides a great community,” she said. “It also provides a bridge between Grinnell students and the community, which is really important.”

Going to the meal is a good reminder that there is a life outside of the College, as well as an opportunity to share food with others. Having a freshly cooked meal that you helped prepare can also be a good change from campus dining. Galanter wants students to know that they are welcome at the meal regardless of whether they have time to volunteer.

“It’s about a 20-minute walk from campus so it would be really great to see Grinnell students, especially if they can’t volunteer, just come and sit down with the Grinnell community and have a meal.”

Reverend Deanna Shorb, dean of religious life, and Nina Galanter ’18 accept the “Leave It Better Than You Found It” Award for their work involving the community meal. Photo contributed.

The benefits of the meal extend to the wider Grinnell community, building bonds between people who might not have previously gotten to know each other.

“People come to the meal to connect with others who may be people they don’t see so often,” Galanter said. Throughout the meal, you can hear warm greetings and chatter about the week. It feels almost like a big family dinner. The community meal is a place where anyone can make connections with others over casserole and cookies.

In the 17 years since the community meal was founded, it has undoubtedly impacted the lives of many Grinnellians. Claude W. Ahrens would be glad to know that his birthday was commemorated by honoring a group unambiguously leaving Grinnell a better place than they found it.

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