GAMBIER — Jennie Morrison will graduate from Kenyon College on Saturday, and also graduate from the Hot Meals Program as a longtime volunteer at First Presbyterian Church.
“I like doing things that are interactive, where you get to interact with the other people,” said Morrison, who is from Grand Rapids, Mich. “I’d never done anything like this before. But it appealed to me to try it because it sounded a little bit different. There’s a lot of interfaith collaboration in the program.”
Morrison knows all about interfaith collaboration. In Grand Rapids, her congregation and the local Episcopal church share the synagogue, and on Monday evenings, she’s behind the serving table at Mount Vernon’s Presbyterian church.
Fellow Kenyon student Traci Gau, who graduated in 2008, encouraged her to volunteer with Hot Meals.
“We were in Circle K, the college version of Kiwanis,” Morrison said. “I met her at my first meeting and she mentioned that she goes to Hot Meals. It took a couple weeks, but I started going with her. It really appealed to me. And now another senior is helping, so it’s kind of been passed on.”
Morrison said getting to know the other volunteers and the Hot Meals guests has been rewarding.
“There’s a different pace at the meals. There’s time for conversation. It’s less fast-paced than at college, and you’re dealing with different issues. The guests let us know what they like to eat, what goes well, what’s not so popular. I’ve learned about their backgrounds and their stories, why they are there.
“There’s one particular man who was there all my freshman and sophomore years. He talked with everybody. But then he disappeared for a lot of my senior year. I’d been very worried, because it can be good that someone stops coming to Hot Meals, or it can be tragic. But last time I was there, I saw him. It was relieving to see him and know he’s all right.”
Morrison had special praise for Jan Watson, First Presbyterian’s Hot Meals coordinator and the other volunteers who prepare and serve the meal each Monday.
“I’m always amazed by how creative Jan is about the menu,” Morrison said, “and by how innovative and resourceful the program is. It’s very inspiring how the Mount Vernon community is able to come together for the Hot Meals Program, or the homeless shelter and other things. It’s great to be involved. I’ll miss it.”
Although Morrison will be leaving Knox County, she will take the lessons learned from helping with Hot Meals along with her.
“The experience made me think that I want to pursue a career where I get to work with people,” she said. “Maybe public programs in a museum. Hot Meals has very much influenced what I think I want to do in my career.”