For the past decade, Southridge School students have been tasked with stepping out of their comfort zone.
Work begins first thing every Friday morning. The students – as young as four years old – and staff at the South Surrey private school make soup from scratch and prepare up to 100 sandwiches for the Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS) at the north end of the city.
Led by teacher Darren Jones, a group of Grade 8-12 students are bused to SUMS (10776 King George Blvd.) just before lunchtime to deliver the food and serve guests that visit the mission for its weekday lunch service.
Peace Arch News joined them for last Friday’s venture.
Timid at first, the students stand in line with a lunch tray collecting a variety of donated food items before delivering the trays to the seated guests.
Up to 200 people can be seated in the dining room. Some of the guests struggle with mental health and drug addiction, and some just need extra support in a tough time.
The Southridge students quickly learn to not judge a book by its cover.
“You learn different stories,” said Grade 12 student Millenia Kitikul. “Sometimes we do have conversations and you learn a little bit about them, what they’ve done, where they’ve been and how they got there.”
“And they’re actually really nice,” Grade 12 student Angela Cheng interjected. “They seem a little intimidating, some people, but once they talk to you and smile, they’re super nice. It’s really genuine.”
The SUMS neighbourhood – it’s located a block from Surrey’s notorious 135A Street, known by locals as “The Strip” – is remarkably different than South Surrey communities.
“You step outside of the South Surrey circle and then you come out here to see a different aspect of the city. You see that not everybody has what we have. It’s a moment to feel grateful of what we’ve got,” Cheng said.
This aspect of the SUMS partnership – which originally started 10 years ago by Southridge student Emily Mordhorst – is one of the most important, said Jones.
“I think it’s really important coming from South Surrey, a fairly affluent area,” he said. “A lot of our kids don’t come up to this part of the neighbourhood. A lot of them just are not aware that there’s a need in the local community.
“It’s pretty impressive when we bring our Grade 8s here for the first time. Some of them are shocked, some of them are a little nervous. But they get up here and they get through that first lunch service and it’s pretty much an immediate connection, they get the impact right away.”
SUMS executive director Mike Musgrove told PAN the act of serving the food to the seated guests – much like a restaurant – is a dignified way of conducting the lunch service.
By the end of the school year, Southridge students will have prepared nearly 25,000 sandwiches for SUMS.