Doane Magazine Web Exclusive: Staying in Crete for good
What a sight to see.
Rev. Karla Cooper, standing outside in below-freezing January temperatures, watched helping hands.
A student taking a senior citizen’s hand, putting her purse over his shoulder and holding onto a box of groceries in his other hand—all while walking her to her car.
Another student making dozens of trips, toting food boxes from inside warm Butler Gymnasium to the chilly parking lot outside.
Doane students, along with faculty and staff, spending their lunch hour with Crete community members and helping facilitate the first of 12 monthly food distributions with the Food Bank of Lincoln’s Mobile Pantry program.
“There’s just these indelible images that are right here in my mind,” said Cooper, Doane’s chaplain and coordinator of service learning, afterward.
Doane chaplain Karla Cooper helps move products from the Food Bank of Lincoln for its mobile pantry distribution in February.
It’s a partnership that will continue for at least the next six months, and came to be through Doane’s connection to the capital city.
The Food Bank of Lincoln found out last October that it would need a new Crete site for its mobile pantry, and that got Operations Director Mariana Schell ’10A brainstorming.
Schell is no stranger to change. She came to the United States from Mexico in 1997, expecting to return her native country after a few years. Instead, she met her husband, became a U.S. citizen and settled in Lincoln.
Then she reached a point in her career where she wanted to earn her master’s degree.
“I’d heard really good things about Doane and so I looked into that,” Schell said. “At that time, there were not that many universities doing evening classes more toward working people, the nontraditional schedule, so it worked really well. I was really happy with what they had to offer.”
By 2010, Schell had her Master of Arts in Management degree, receiving it on Doane’s Crete campus at commencement ceremonies. It was the culmination of an educational experience she wouldn’t trade for anything.
“I found it very nice and very interesting conversations, discussions and different ideas you can actually apply to your work and make them real,” Schell said. “Obviously the classes were very good, but that interaction with the instructors and also with the peer students was fun for me.”
It was only natural, then, that when she started looking for advice about where to take the mobile pantry next, she reached out to a former colleague and friend. Kerry Fina, who she had worked with in the past, also happened to be a faculty member at Doane when she was earning her degree through the Lincoln campus.
Fina connected Schell with Rev. Cooper, who works on the Crete campus, and it was a natural fit for a partnership—for the Food Bank and for undergraduates at Doane.
“It’s connecting our liberal arts seminars and service learning opportunities to have this broader conversation of what does it mean to live in a land of plenty and still have people who don’t have the basics of food?” Rev. Cooper said.
Before both sides made anything final, Doane’s chaplain went to observe the Food Bank’s Thanksgiving distribution last November at its old site. She can still remember the imagery of that day, too: Families huddled outside with baskets and carts. Cold rain. Lines wrapped around the building.
“We take for granted when we have so much, we don’t think readily about people with food insecurity,” Cooper remembered thinking. “This is supposed to last them until the next distribution. A basket of food for 30 days for a family of four to six minimum. That’s incredible.”
In advance of the first distribution on January, Schell returned to the campus where she had graduated six years earlier to get a lay of the land, and in conjunction with Doane’s Student Affairs team, set up shop in Butler Gym.
That’s where Food Bank of Lincoln has been each month so far this year, and will be until December. At the first event in January, Doane and the Food Bank helped 67 families and 208 individuals total.
Aside from the free labor, Schell jokes, the relationship between Doane and the Food Bank is just as beneficial for them as it is for students.
“What an eye-opener. What a great opportunity for future leaders,” Schell said. “People that can actually make a huge impact in the community and get to understand what our clients are going through.”
Mariana Schell (front) and Karla Cooper (third row, second from right) pose with Doane staff members after the February Food Bank of Lincoln food distribution in Butler Gym.
Rev. Cooper and Student Affairs have teamed up to get student organizations, offices and even athletic teams involved in the distributions. On top of the good they’re doing, it gives students a chance to socialize with community members and opens Doane’s campus even more to Crete.
And even as the weather has warmed up and winter has passed, the sentiments of that first day carry on.
“For as cold as it was, it was so heartwarming,” Rev. Cooper said.
Above: Doane staff and students distribute food to Crete community members at the Food Bank of Lincoln's February distribution in Butler Gym.
Photos by Andrew Mattson