Mary McClung is a photographer, fine artist, and adjunct professor at Herron School of Art with a huge passion for healthy food and food access. “I have a really strong thing about real food for people,” she says. so volunteering with The Patchou Foundation has become the perfect fit. She even uses her talents to take some photos of the kids we serve.
How long have you been volunteering and what has made it so fulfilling to you?
I’ve been volunteering for about a year and a half. I really think that, for me, I find huge fulfillment in bringing fresh, local, just real food to people who may not otherwise ever have a chance to experience it on their own. And teaching people about where our food comes from because I think that’s a huge issue that we have today. And also really just getting some food to kids in a setting where they can sit down and enjoy it and talk about it for a while.
Do you have a favorite memory or story about your volunteer experience?
Probably my favorite memory was just most recently at the Martin Luther King Center during the summer lunch program. It was a really small group of kids and we gave them minestrone soup on a super hot day, which we wondered about. But it was cold in the building and the kids dug right in. They loved everything about it. One kid pulled out a garbanzo bean and he said, “Is this a tooth?!” And I said no, no, it’s a garbanzo bean and we got to talking about what that was.
And, after that, he ate that bowl of soup and he ate another one and he walked away and said, “I could just eat that soup all day.” So it’s that moment of learning when a kid wonders what something is and, instead of just spitting it out, he says, “What is this?” You talk about the food, and then he loves it. That was a huge moment for me.
Beyond filling bellies, why is food important?
Food is important beyond food. Just eating good food isn’t the only thing for me. I am sort of on a mission in life, and I do ongoing projects on my own, where I want to put people together with food. And real food especially. Food is more than just this thing that gives us nutrition. It’s also a bond that we have together. It brings our cultures and our societies together.
Even if we come to a table where we don’t necessarily know each other, or we’re not related, when we eat a meal together, we have a little fellowship, we have a little communion. It’s this momentary bond of human beings that transcends all the technology, and the fast food, and the lack of time that we have in the outside world. Teaching that, eating together with kids, where they just slow down and think about their food and share that with the other kids at the table — to me, that sets sort of their starting place for that throughout their life.
Why do you think The Patachou Foundation is important for our community as a whole?
To me, The Patachou Foundation is sort of a trailblazer with kids and food. I’ve never experienced anyone else introducing food that is grown locally and fresh to children not just on a plate, so you can talk about it and experience it. Even if the kids don’t eat that food now, ten years from now they might see that food we talked about in a grocery store. If they have access to it, they may choose that. Patachou is opening those doors one at a time in tiny little ways. They’re not force feeding anyone. There’s the beauty of that.
Kids get to come to the garden and see where their food actually comes from. I feel like that’s unique, at least regionally, hopefully not nationally. Patachou in making smashing strides of where we’ve reversed our ability to eat well in so many ways. They’re pulling everybody forward again, which, to me, is enormous. And totally worth it.
Want to join Mary on our team of volunteers? Apply now.