Germantown Friends School second graders in Daniel Rouse’s class—(from left) Shaine Greenwald, Caroline Putnam and Reed Hartzog with Caroline’s mom, Kathy Putnam, knead dough to make bread for the men at the Whosoever Gospel Mission. (Photo by Laura Jamieson)

by Laura Jamieson

Since 1999, Daniel Rouse’s second grade class has been baking bread for the Whosoever Gospel Mission, a men’s shelter in Germantown. Once a month, beginning in October and continuing through the end of the school year, the students and parent volunteers bake 16 loaves of bread for the men’s dinner that evening. “A running total of 1,585 loaves and counting,” says Rouse.

“The exercise of bread making for the Whosoever Gospel Mission is a real-life service project that ties in to the root of our social studies theme: basic human need,” explains Rouse. “While we study the ancient ways of the Lenape and then the Colonial period of the Northeast, we [focus] on how human beings back then fed, clothed and housed themselves. Baking bread once a month for a local shelter in our neighborhood that is dedicated to helping homeless men get back on their feet seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect our modern lives and needs with the needs of others.”

The class visits the Mission each fall to get a sense of the work that is done there.

Parent Richard Greenwald says, “This is my third child in Daniel’s class, so I’ve seen it before and done it before and I think it’s fantastic. I went to the Mission in the fall and it was so good to go there with my child. It’s fun and it’s a great learning tool.”

The students are helping others, but they are also learning about the source of their own food.

“We felt that the children should know more about the origins of what they eat,” says Rouse. “For many children, bread comes to the house in a plastic bag. To know how bread is made—how yeast converts sugar into carbon dioxide gas, thus making the dough rise—is knowledge that helps connect children to their environment and illustrates that what we eat comes from the earth.”

While studying the Colonial period, the students hand mill wheat to make their own flour, which is then used in the bread recipe.

In the kitchen the students and parents chat and laugh as they knead the dough. The kids wiggle dough-covered fingers and giggle about the flour on each other’s cheeks and noses.

“We make the dough and knead it before we put it in the oven,” explains second-grader Chase Roman.

“It’s fun and it’s hard work.” Classmate Olivia Perry eagerly adds, “But when it’s done we get to eat a piece; and we can put honey on it!”

The parents enjoy connecting with other parents and students while they work beside their own child.

“It’s the parents who make this happen,” says Rouse. “At the beginning of every year the parents are a little surprised—‘Daniel Rouse doesn’t make bread! It’s the parents and the students who do it!”

After a long morning of kneading with the students, parent volunteer Tracy Roman planned to deliver the bread to the Mission with her son, Chase. “I want to bring him with me,” she says. “He has to see that part. It completes the whole circle for them. They see the people who they are helping and what it’s all about. And it’s a good opportunity to discuss these issues in ways that they can process—it’s not over their heads. It’s a great experience.”

Second-grader Oliver Briger sums it up best: “It feels good to help people.”