Arts students serve the poor

arts students

Students from the InterVarsity arts group at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have been serving the poor in a unique way by using their arts gifts at a local food pantry. Every week these skilled musicians play live music for those waiting to receive food and clothing — adding a transformational note for the families receiving assistance.

Several months ago, the members of the arts group at NU began talking about finding practical ways to serve the poor in their community.Â
But the question quickly popped up: I’m only a visualÂ
artist, or a musician … what can I do that would be of any real value?
It was a simple, prayerful question, and the Lord provided a very simple answer.

Between 50 and 125 families line up every Wednesday evening to receive free food at the Harvest Food Pantry and Clothes Closet, sponsored by a local church. The arts group wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by volunteering and using their gifts. Each week, classically-trained musicians go to the food pantry and play their instruments for the families who are waiting to receive their allotted food and clothing. A different group of NU students volunteers each week, depending on individual rehearsal schedules.

The effect? “It’s amazing what a blessing this music is to the atmosphere of the room,” said Dick Ryan of InterVarsity’s Arts Ministry. “The room is full of talking and noise, of course, but the live music creates a feeling of celebration — celebration of life.”

The students don’t rehearse in advance but simply play excerpts that they are perfecting for their studio work, most often classical music.Â
Sometimes they take requests, often from the entranced young children who stand in front of them, their eyes full of wonder at the beauty of the sound, and even of the instrumentsÂ

Many of the patrons enthusiastically applaud after each piece. They talk about feeling honored that these college students would take time to share their high-quality music gifts with them.Â
Dick has noticed how the food pantry and its customers have been transformed. “Because God’s heart for the poor is the central motivation of the arts students,” he notes, “God’s Spirit is released in the hearts and minds of the listeners.”

The musicians are hoping to add some visual artists — and perhaps some theatre students — to the group in the future.

At Northwestern University, these students of the arts are learning that God can use their gifts in strange and wonderful ways — and that they can make a difference in the lives of people who are often hungry or homeless. “As these people come to the food pantry to receive food for their stomachs, we hope to also give them food for their hearts,” Dick adds. “It is the power of art to make a difference in our world.”