It’s been a couple of years since Niagara University launched a much-needed soup kitchen at the former St. George’s Church on Niagara Falls’ East side. And while the guests may have noticed some of the differences between then and now, much has changed behind the scenes as well.
For example, there is a more organized volunteer process. Teams of students are given schedules to follow to ensure there are enough volunteers on hand. The menu has expanded from soup and sandwiches to balanced meals that include salads and pastas. And in addition to Thursday night dinner, lunch is offered one Saturday each month.
But perhaps the most exciting change has been the establishment of an internship with the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. The idea was developed by Erinn Hill, ’14, a hospitality student who served as soup kitchen coordinator in her senior year. Recognizing that this experience would be a good resume builder for her classmates, Erinn talked with Mike Daloia, ’09, operations and personnel manager at Heart & Soul dining room in Niagara Falls for advice before meeting with Monica Saltarelli, ’86, campus minister and Society of St. Vincent de Paul advisor, and Katie Finamore, the college’s director of experiential opportunities, to discuss the internship.
“I’ve done many internships, but I learned the most at the soup kitchen and I am proud to have it on my resume,” Hill explained.
The internship gives students firsthand experience in all aspects of restaurant management, including purchasing, inventory, menu preparation, and scheduling staff. While previous restaurant experience is not required, students must be certified through the ServSafe Food Handler Program, which offers training in five key areas including basic food safety and cross-contamination and allergens. One internship will be offered each semester, and a student may be selected for up to two semesters.
“The internship ties together the mission of the university – serving the less fortunate – and one of the main missions of the college: to provide as much practical industry experience as possible,” Finamore said. “It’s a perfect marriage of everything we are trying to do.”
“Erinn is a prime example of bringing the Vincentian charism to her course of study in the College of Hospitality – truly learning and serving,” Saltarelli added. “Because of Erinn’s vision, her efforts, her expertise, and her compassion, more people are able to experience nourishment of mind, body, and spirit.”