“A few months ago, a gentleman came to the literacy council to get help with English,” said Dr. Jan Edelstein. “He’d been in the country less than a week and, as we were asking him questions about his travels, he mentioned that in addition to being tired, he was also hungry. He could not remember the last time he had eaten.”
For Dr. Edelstein, a retired professor of nursing and the current Education Coordinator for the Winnebago County Literacy Council (WCLC), in Oshkosh, WI, this one encounter lead to a new perspective on learning. “That’s when we realized we had a bigger problem on our hands. We knew we needed to take care of hunger before learning could begin.”
The WCLC, located in the Oshkosh Public Library and directly across the street from the local World Relief center, sees a large number of the refugees who are resettled into the Oshkosh community. They understand that in order to make their programs successful, they need to look at the entire experiences of their learners and what pressures they may be under.
“The literacy council empowers people to reach their American English literacy goals so they can thrive in our community. We create opportunities for people to read, write, speak, and perform everyday skills with confidence,” explains Terri S. Hansen, WCLC Executive Director. “Our learners are from all walks of life, motivated by their own desire to read, write, and speak in English. English literacy helps people from other countries join in, succeed, and feel like they belong in our community.”
To address the hunger issues, Hansen found a grant opportunity from a Milwaukee based franchise, Cousins Subs Inc. The grant supplies funds for the literacy council to purchase healthy snacks each week. “Cousins Subs is really excited about being able to help our learners,” said Edelstein.
The experience has been educational for everyone. “The first time we brought food to class, we included crackers and cheese. This is Wisconsin, after all,” explained Edelstein. “It turned out that our learners didn’t like the cheese so we started asking them for a grocery list.”
WCLC has four refugee and immigrant language classes and each one has its own unique menu. “One group did not want bananas at all. They had worked on a banana plantation and didn’t want to see another banana.” Providing the healthy snacks has lead to authentic learning moments like reading food labels to help make good choices. Edelstein said some students had never seen a green apple before and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was a new experience for many. “They are discovering new foods, but so am I,” she said.
Edelstein said there are 5 to 12 students in each class and WCLC spends about $30 per week on food. Leftovers are set out for people who come for tutoring sessions.
The WCLC is a non-profit organization that has been in Oshkosh since 1989. Funding for WCLC is provided by Oshkosh Area United Way, grants and individual donations.
Dr. Edelstein told us about the work the WCLC was doing by using the Community Commons story form. Share your story and it could be featured on the site.