MATOON -- Several first-graders sat cross legged in a circle around volunteer Mike Snyder and listened intently as he told them the story of "Johnny Appleseed" on Friday at the Fit-2-Serve building.
Snyder, a retired Neoga High School teacher, said one of the best things about volunteering with Fit-2-Serve's Farm-2-Table classes is seeing children lean forward with eyes wide open as he tells them about the origins on the farm of some of their favorite foods.
"They show a lot of enthusiasm, and that is contagious," Snyder said.
Fit-2-Serve, a faith-based nonprofit organization, has a stated mission "to equip others for works of service" in the community, and this mission includes offering the Farm-2-Table classes for Mattoon first-graders. These classes help the children learn how the food they eat comes from farms and ends up on their table.
Additional volunteers are being sought in November for Thanksgiving-themed classes in which Farm-2-Table students will create gratitude cards for employees of local food stores and make "Friendship Apple Butter."
The Williams Elementary School first-graders who took a field trip to the Fit-2-Serve building, 1320 Lafayette Ave., on Friday cored apples with the help of grown ups in the adjacent Teaching Kitchen. They then turned the apple slices into edible crafts decorated with peanut-free toasted soy spread, dried cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds, and other snacks.
"This is a great because for a lot of them this is their first experience with a particular food," said first-grade teacher Brook Kinnaman, noting that her students tried purple carrots last week. "They not only get to try it, they get to cook or help create something."
Kinnaman said the first-graders will start preparing food, such as carrot cookies or dehydrated apple slices, at the Fit-2-Serve building and then volunteers will bring the finished food to the school during the following week. She said her students look forward to the hands-on cooking lessons and to trying the food afterward.
While one group of first-graders worked in the Teaching Kitchen on Friday, another group took part is lessons led by Snyder and his wife, Jean, in the Fit-2-Serve building. She led a craft project in which students learned about the growing process of apples from starting as seeds to ending up in pie, or other food.
AmeriCorps VISTA intern Cheryl Lee welcomed the first-graders to the class and introduced the day's apple-themed lesson. Other volunteers helped the students make their edible crafts.
Snyder said he and his wife started volunteering last year as managers at Fit-2-Serve's community gardening plot along South Fifth Place in Mattoon. He said they then branched out to helping the many volunteers who make Farm-2-Table possible.
"It takes a lot of people to make this happen," Snyder said. Farm-2-Table serves eight first-grade classes, with approximately 20 students per class.
Fit-2-Serve reported that individual volunteers or businesses and other organizations can help directly with Farm-2-Table or other community service programs, or assist behind the scenes with office work, graphic arts, fundraising or other tasks.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Lee at 217-276-3667 or Fit-2-Serve Executive Director Bill Duey at 1-708-829-7324.