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Area food pantry provides service learning opportunity for Westminster students

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Posted on Friday, April 3, 2020

Not only is food security a growing problem in America, it’s also part of the focus of Westminster College’s Social Class in America course. And in true Westminster service learning fashion, students spent time at an area food pantry to lend a hand and better understand the social and economic structures that exist locally.

Ten students and Dr. Kristin Park, professor of sociology, volunteered several hours in February at the New Life Bread Basket food panty in New Castle where they helped distribute food to shoppers. The students recorded their observations and analyzed the experience using course materials on food insecurity.

“I want them to practice being qualitative sociological researchers, as well as fulfill the liberal arts mission of cultivating their compassion and moral development,” said Park.

Alex Bowes, a senior psychology major from Union City, said the first-hand experience opened his eyes to the gravity of food insecurity.

“At the food pantry there weren’t just tens of people, there were hundreds. I will be honest, I never realized how many people needed help,” Bowes said. “We can learn about numbers, you can hear statistics on television, you can watch movies and documentaries, but nothing is more eye-opening than real life experiences.”
In Park’s class, students studied Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, a theory that suggests that people are motivated by five basic needs—physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization—with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs are met. Students witnessed the theory in action while working in the food pantry, said Loganne McGowan, a senior psychology major from New Castle.

“It was evident how beneficial the food panty was for shoppers to move their way up the pyramid,” McGowan said. “The food pantry is able to help people meet some parts of the physiological level of the pyramid by providing food. This assisted them to move up to safety and through the rest of the levels.”

To learn more about the sociology program at Westminster College, please visit our website or contact Dr. Kristin Park at 724-946-7251 or

The New Life Bread Basket Food Pantry, 805 E. Washington St., New Castle, is open the third Saturday of every month. Food is donated from local supermarkets and food drives and purchased from the Pittsburgh Greater Community Food Bank. For more information, call 724-979-2283.