Project Feast Celebrates 23 Years of Giving
In a ritual that requires aprons rather than white coats, students at the School of Medicine staged Project Feast, a meal and food-and-clothing giveaway that each year serves more than 400 disadvantaged people in West Baltimore.
The Thanksgiving Day event has become a tradition for second-year medical students. The tradition also holds for many other volunteers, bringing together a diverse group from the community and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).
When they gathered on Nov. 22 for the 23rd annual Project Feast, volunteers greeted one another as if an extended family were reuniting for the holiday. Among workers ranging in age from senior citizens to preteens, the youngsters were often drawn to jobs where they wheeled the pie cart or to the wellness center where they shadowed UMB students offering health checks.
For one of the organizers, Sarah Britz, the event was indeed a family tradition. Her mother, Judy Britz, PhD, executive director of the Maryland Biotechnology Center, is a Project Feast volunteer who said their family selected Project Feast several years ago as a way to instill the value of community service.
Sarah Britz and co-organizers Adam Pampori and Amanda Wong orchestrated the roasting and serving of 30 turkeys by fellow members of the Class of 2015. Their faculty advisor is Sheri Slezak, MD, School of Medicine professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, who has guided the effort since 2009, when her daughter Katie Duncan, MD ’12, was an organizer. It is also a family project for Slezak; her son Garrett, 18, was a volunteer for his third consecutive year.
Some students had never cooked or carved turkey. Using their own ovens and a set of explicit instructions, they produced more than 250 pounds—sliced, bagged, and ready for drop-off.
The destination for this holiday feasting is Upton—a poor but proud neighborhood that sends its own dedicated contingent of residents to help put on Project Feast.
At the huge, brick building that houses both Booker T. Washington Middle School and Renaissance Academy, a high school, supply rooms brimmed with boxes of stuffing mix and potatoes, more than 300 pounds of canned vegetables, and 150 pies. The largesse is made possible by the School of Medicine Student Council, the University Student Government Association, and the Medical Alumni Association of the University of Maryland.
Cafeteria manager Sheila Travers has overseen the meal for more than a decade with the help of cabdriver Clinton Tates. “Everyone wants to follow the lead, everyone cooperates and we work together,” said Travers.
The family of Tyra McCray, an employee of the University of Maryland Medical Center, was volunteering for the third year along with several other families from Kingdom Church International.
On the line ladling food were two School of Social Work students; a teacher and student from Renaissance Academy; and several teens whose families are Eritrean immigrants looking to build a new tradition.
In the lobby, Suhl Choi and Tae Eun Kim were among School of Pharmacy students offering blood pressure checks.
Medical students also staffed the wellness table. Co-organizer Pampori said he found the results to be the most gratifying part of Project Feast. UMB students flagged several cases and urged follow-up care.