January-February 2018 Issue
December 21, 2017

Teachers serve up homework help, food and fun at café

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
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An army of volunteers keep the South End Children’s Café running, including, from left, Bethlehem teacher Cindy MacCallum, volunteer Sandra Munella Olson and cafe founder, Tracie Killar.
Caption: An army of volunteers keep the South End Children's Café running, including, from left, Bethlehem teacher Cindy MacCallum, volunteer Sandra Munella Olson and cafe founder, Tracie Killar. Photo by Liza Frenette.

Glass jam jars are clustered with crayons, and the tops of cafeteria-style tables are crammed with Legos, Play-Doh, board games, and a lot of elbows.

This is the new home of the South End Children's Café, a place where about 30 children gather each day to get help with homework, some with the assistance of teacher volunteers, including Cindy MacCallum and Sandra Munella Olson.

Kids also come here to get a healthy meal. About half of the kids who come are homeless. Some are foster children. Most of them are at or below the poverty line, said café founder Tracie Killar.

They are all beautiful.

Many of the volunteers who keep the rhythm of the place in motion come once a week; a few, every day. Among them are a host of reliable teachers. MacCallum, a math teacher and member of the Bethlehem Central Teachers Association, shares her talents every Tuesday. Olson previously taught in Jamestown and then worked as a permanent substitute in Saratoga County. She volunteers, helping kids four afternoons a week.

MacCallum's duties begin each week with time spent in the homework room. "I love working with kids," she said. "Giving time and effort is important."

MacCallum comes directly from Slingerlands Elementary, where she teaches Response to Intervention, remedial math K-5 and third-grade challenge.

Olson read about the café in the paper and has been volunteering there since it opened.

At the café, children are fed a hot meal each day; sometimes a parent joins them. Meals are made from scratch, with health at the top of the recipe. Chicken, for example, is baked not fried.

"The main mission is to impact food security and food equality and justice by offering a free, healthy meal," said Killar. "We feed mind and body." In the two years since the café opened, she said they have served 14,600 dinners.

Active and retired NYSUT teacher volunteers include Karen Smith, Mohonasen TA; Barb Riegel, Diane McNiven and Mignonne Philips, Bethlehem CTA; and Sue Hacker, Albany PSTA.

"It's amazing that teachers teach all day then come here and teach," Killar marvels.

To read more about the café, visit www.nysut.org.

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