A church in Stillwater plans to feed 2,000 meals to college students from Oklahoma State University during finals week May 6-10.
Countryside Baptist Church, located at 2124 S. Western Road, will host Finals Feed, a service for OSU students who need a meal and a place to study to get through finals week. Countryside accommodates as many students as it can every semester to help them succeed in class.
Countryside has helped students for the past 15 years; this year it is planning to feed 2,000 students, matching last year’s count.
Duane Smith, a member of Countryside who serves in the college ministry and food preparation, said having the ability to feed students during finals is beneficial to him and others at the church. He said he is also passionate about feeding OSU’s students during finals.
“It’s really just a lot of fun,” Smith said. “I would give anything for the people that I come in contact with. Meaning I will give my time and I will certainly give my years of experience and wisdom.”
Smith said though he and his food preparation team are serving meals in the church, it should not be a threat to students who are unaffiliated with religion. He said Finals Feed will be full of people from the community who are willing to give and ask nothing in return.
“Everybody has to eat, and everybody has to study during finals week, so it’s completely not a threat environment,” Smith said. “People just walk in and they see the heart of some of the people who live in this community.”
Even with the experience of 15 years hosting this event, Smith said providing 2,000 meals for students this year will be the most food it prepares.
“We basically open our entire church from Sunday night at 6 until Thursday night at 2 a.m. for students to come and eat a hot meal, study, coffee, snacks, everything in between,” Smith said. “I take a vacation every year, twice a year to do that. … I have some ideas on how we can make that bigger, but really the building seems to keep Finals Feed at the same size, and about 450 seems to be what we can handle.”
Smith said last semester 400 students came to Finals Feed each night from Sunday to Thursday, which was tough to handle. Because of this, he said he is trying to think of new ideas to make more meals for students during finals.
“Honestly, our little kitchen is about maxed out,” Smith said. “We’re always open to ideas to make it better and make things move faster, but if we were going to cook for more than 450 [students], we would have to cook elsewhere and bring it into our facilities.”
Although having a limit of serving 450 students can be a setback for Countryside, it plans to continue offering other services, such as study space and tutors, which make up for its inability to feed more students.
Stacee Harmon, a staff member at Countryside, handles its technology. Harmon said the church provides opportunities for students to work in a quiet space and get help if they need it.
“We prioritize loving our college students … not the ones who just come here, the ones who are in our community,” Harmon said. “Connect your devices and just do your work here so that you don’t have to get a meal here and work somewhere else. … Loving people well with technology is partly just providing a service.”
Harmon said she made technological changes in the church to allow it to host students who want a spot to study during finals week this semester.
“As Finals Feed began to grow, we’ve been doing it for years, it just became clear that students’ dependence upon technology just grew and grew and grew along with the numbers who were coming,” Harmon said. “We did a complete internet upgrade so we can have multiple connections with each person who is in the building.”
Harmon thinks Finals Feed is important because it gives students a chance to eat a home-cooked meal when they are away from home. She also said some students might not eat or sleep during finals, and offering meals to them at that time will help.
Teaching staff from OSU have gone to Countryside in the past to help students study for exams.
Harmon used to be a college algebra professor at OSU, and she has tutored students who attended Finals Feed. She said she believes the same options will be available to students this semester.
“I taught college algebra for a while, and it was fun to have a place that I could provide my students,” Harmon said. “I have run study sessions and met new students as well as my own students. I just love the opportunity to do that.”
Harmon is not the only person who offers tutoring help during Finals Feed. Trevin Bender, an OSU graduate and Countryside intern, said he has helped run Finals Feed, been a part of it, directed it and benefited from it.
Bender, a teaching assistant, has offered help to students in his class at Finals Feed and that service has been extended through as a graduate student from OSU.
“We have a OSU grad student who just finished his Ph.D., and for the last four years, he would help all of the physics students that needed help with their stuff during finals week,” Bender said. “You have professors who are in the busiest time of the year … or even students who are further along in the busiest time of their year giving up their time to help students.”
Bender said after experiencing finals, he knows the end of the semester can be a stressful time. Because of this, Bender said Countryside provides a good environment for students to succeed in studying.
“Naturally in that time your mind is almost preset to stress out and to move toward anxiety,” Bender said. “I think the type of environment that you put yourself in can play a huge role in your success as a student and preparing for those huge tests and preparing for papers. [Finals Feed] creates an environment where it’s easier to find people to help you with a project if you need … people who work at OSU.”
Some students who have gone to Finals Feed in the past are excited for the amount of meals Countryside will be able to feed students this semester.
Emma Woolard, an OSU student, said Finals Feed helps her and other students keep a successful mindset during finals.
“It really just makes a difference for students’ stress levels and the way that they see themselves and build confidence leading up to their tests the week of,” Woolard said. “The church just comes together to make us feel really loved. Especially during finals week.”
Woolard thinks it is important for students to have a good place to study during finals week because stress levels increase tenfold. She said finding a place to study can be difficult because coffee shops are usually full, and Finals Feed helps with that because it gives students an open place to study, and it allows them to take a break from spending money.
“I think that it has made a tremendous difference,” Woolard said. “Because of the way that it’s set up, I’m able to take breaks and walk around the church and do whatever. It’s really awesome.”
Woolard is not the only student who appreciates Finals Feed. Cole Grimes, a microbiology major at OSU, said he is looking forward to Finals Feed this semester.
“Countryside is doing so much to help students,” Grimes said. “To know that they are planning on making 2,000 meals for us is insane. The idea of feeding us and giving us a place to study in the same night is really helpful for people like me. More college students should know what it’s like to be in an environment that’s so inviting.”
As a microbiology major, Grimes said he usually has a lot of notes to look over, and sometimes it can be difficult for him to focus on studying because it’s overwhelming.
“The last time I went to Finals Feed I was in such a good head space,” Grimes said. “I was honestly surprised at how I was able to get things done in a timely manner, and I think it was because I was just loved on by the people at Countryside.”
Grimes said being at Finals Feed helped him realize how important it is to be in a relaxed environment, but not alone. He had the opportunity to study with other students who had the same class, and he looks forward to attending Finals Feed again in May.