Dean Gail O’Day spends her days at the Divinity School helping her students help others. Whether they are growing food in the campus garden to distribute to those in need or volunteering with Kids Café (a program of Second Harvest Food Bank), O’Day’s job is to make sure students have the resources they need to be successful.
Student interest was the impetus for the school’s sustainability club, EcoTHEO. Students also are working in many hunger-focused ministries, either as service-learning or volunteer work. “It’s a great reflection of the importance of sustainability for this generation of ministerial students,” O’Day said. Seventy percent of the university’s divinity students are under the age of 30.
When she started at the university in August 2010, O’Day heard students express their commitment to and passion for sustainability as a major social justice issue. The School is developing a focus on food and faith communities, because “food issues struck us as the most accessible entry point into questions of sustainability,” she said. “It (food) has intergenerational appeal and need. The need for healthy food and food access also crosses ethnic lines. Many different faith communities can participate, so it crosses faith lines too.”
For O’Day, the importance of food ministries goes beyond feeding physical hunger. “Food is our closest link to the land,” she said. “When you know farmers, you know that food is not simply a commodity. It is the way some people make a living. My food decisions have justice implications for other people. We need to stop and think about the interconnectedness of everything and the impact we can have on the common good.”
It was this desire to work toward the common good that brought O’Day to the university. “Wake Forest values the education of the whole person. It is a place for engagement across disciplines and it is small enough for effective collaboration. You can actually get in touch with the person you need to make something happen” she said.
By Caitlin Edwards, Wake Forest Fellow