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2017 “Leave It Better Than You Found It” Award to Grinnell College Student Group

2017 “Leave It Better Than You Found It” Award to Grinnell College Student Group


The Grinnell College Social Justice Action Group (SJAG), the student organization that coordinates the weekly Community Meal at Davis Elementary School, is the 2017 recipient of the “Leave It Better ThanYou Found It” award from the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation (CDAF).  The “Leave It Better” award commemorates the August birthday of the late philanthropist Claude W. Ahrens. To date, more than 300 area individuals, groups and organizations have been honored by the annual recognition program of those making a difference in the community.

The student-led Social Justice Action Group focuses its activities on promoting peace, equality, and positive social change by fighting hunger, encouraging volunteerism, and strengthening relationships in the local community. Grinnell College students started the meal program in 2000 as a community-building activity with oversight by Dean of Religious Life and Chaplain Deanna Shorb. The free meal is served every Tuesday (except during month of August) from 5:45-6:15 p.m. in the Davis cafeteria and is open to anyone in the community.

“What started 17 years ago as a single event has grown to serve the food and fellowship needs of 80-100 on a regular basis. The Community Meal has evolved into a multi-generational, cross-socio-economic group gathering that allows local residents to get to know college students and vice versa.  For example, international students may come to the meal to practice their English language skills, while retirees may come so they don’t have to eat alone,” Shorb said.

SJAG members work with local groups to cook and serve the meals, shop for groceries if needed, followup on schedules and menus, and provide on-site assistance with meal preparation and cleanup. Student coordinator Nina Galanter, a senior mathematics major from Northbrook, Ill., has assisted with Community Meal during each of her four academic years at Grinnell.

“I’m honored that SJAG received the ‘Leave It Better’ award. We feel that the Community Meal has a very positive impact on Grinnell, and it’s great to be recognized for that. Serving as a coordinator of the meal has shown me how much goes on behind-the-scenes and how many people put in a great deal of effort to ensure that the meal is served each week,” Galanter said.  “The ‘Leave It Better’ award will help SJAG continue to operate smoothly and gives us more confidence that we can continue the Community Meal for many years going forward.”

CDAF President and CEO Julie Gosselink said the Grinnell College student group was selected for the award because of the organization’s long-standing efforts to build community relationships through the weekly Community Meal.

“The Grinnell College Social Justice Action Group is committed to building relationships and taking action to better our community. It’s especially impressive that these students, who are in most cases temporary members of our community, devote their time to providing for those  in need, as well as reaching out to break barriers and build understanding among local groups. These student efforts demonstrate the mission and intent of ‘Leave It Better’ recognition,” Gosselink said.

The Social Justice Action Group will receive a $5,000 grant and traveling trophy from CDAF as part of the foundation’s annual recognition. The traveling trophy will be displayed on campus at the college’s Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice. Shorb said that the cash award will be used to offset the estimated cost of $2 per served meal, as well as the cost of having a school district employee on site, per district policy.

“The Community Meal is funded in full by donations. There is no line item budget for the meal so we are reliant on and grateful for the generosity of church and civic organizations, individuals, and the Campbell Fund for the Worthy Poor.  It’s the kindnesses of so many that make this vibrant, successful activity truly a community meal,” Shorb said.

Groups and individuals who wish to contribute to or volunteer to prepare and serve at the Community Meal may contact Shorb at the college,, 641-269-4981.

Information about the Leave It Better Award is available at

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