Community Engagement
A South Bronx Sodexo Summer
Stephen Ritz
Stephen Ritz
South Bronx teacher,
Founder of Green Bronx Machine

Now that I’m well into back-to-school mode and looking towards the future, I can’t help but reflect on our amazing South Bronx Sodexo Summer. A summer when twenty children from the largest stretch of public housing in the poorest congressional district in America chose to come together to:

Log 5,579,532 steps

Rescue 1,769 meals

Acquire 108 new vocabulary words

Write over 100 letters to people, businesses and visitors

Grow over 5,000 pounds of vegetables which were donated to food insecure recovering cancer patients — even making television news!

Prepare meals daily, use chopsticks, make dumplings and kimchi, try exotic spices and write their own fortune cookies

Visit hospitals, colleges, museums, farms, famers markets and business sites across New York City

Plant at the New York Botanical Garden

Orchestrate, host and present at a Celebration of Learning in our community

Even ride camels!

 

I can’t help but ruminate upon what stories these children will tell, how important they felt, how excited they were and how connected they were and are. None of this was the result of a handout but rather the result of a handshake, a smile and a goal oriented to-do list. These children’s lives are forever changed and tied to the spirit and purpose of higher education through passion, purpose and hope that mindful, healthy choices can be fun, easy, accessible and logical. They know and embrace that a great day starts with a healthy breakfast and a brisk walk to the train. They learned to “stand clear of the closing doors please!”–the seven famous words every New Yorker knows all too well that ring out daily as trains prepare to pull away from platforms across the world’s oldest subway system. Its 472 stations represent the largest rapid transit system in the world and the veins and arteries that connect our boroughs, neighborhoods and people; powered by Sodexo, we visited every borough and my students learned there need not be any closed doors, but only welcome signs for all!

We learned what it takes to move 123 pounds of coffee, 570 pounds of crudité, 2,850 bananas, 704 oranges, 600 pounds of apples, 100 gallons of milk, 900 fresh fruit cups, 800 yogurts parfaits, 1,800 servings of soup — all consumed within 20 minutes — DAILY. And behind all of it were Sodexo people — showing up on time, saying please, thank you and have a nice day. In a celebrity driven world, my students got to meet real people doing real things. They met people who looked like them, had similar last names and countries and cultures of origin; they met people with purpose. On the hottest days of summer, they experienced the joy of a walk-in freezer while preparing healthy meals. At Bloomberg LLC, they met an employee who graduated from our school 55 years ago and also got to meet Charlie Pellet — the voice of the MTA —who brought my children all to their feet by uttering seven little words: “Stand clear of the closing doors, please!” His advice rings true for every aspect of their lives. In that moment, we forever traded celebrity endorsements for landmark institutions and along the way met the voice that every New Yorker knows. They will NEVER forget that. In fact, they will be reminded every day!

Sodexo didn’t show us the world, they showed us what connects all the people within it. By opening their doors, Sodexo showed us parts of the city that nobody has seen — the command centers of grand corporations and underbellies of fabled city institutions. Sodexo revealed the quiet brilliance of the behind-the-scenes operations of buildings and organizations, the foundation upon which business is done. Sodexo reminded us that behind stoic grey and glass walls of buildings, behind brand names above revolving doors and porticos, are people — working individuals from all walks of life who form the lifeblood of this city. Sodexo showed us who works and what works. In a celebrity-driven world, ours is now about real people, real jobs and what brings us all together and sits us around a table: a well prepared, healthy meal. Thank you Sodexo for a purpose driven summer and a vision and opportunity for an inclusive, healthier future for all!

 

Stephen Ritz is an award winning South Bronx teacher, Founder of Green Bronx Machine and author of acclaimed best-selling book: The Power Of A Plant – all proceeds donated to charity.

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