Students from two Pioneer Valley High School classes — Jennifer Montanez's culinary arts and Melissa Diaz's clothing and fashion — served more than 100 bowls of homemade chicken tortilla soup Thursday and delivered 73 pillows and four blankets to residents at the Good Samaritan Shelter. 

The food and pillows, both teachers say, are more than just practice and classwork — they're lessons in compassion.

"One thing I value and try to teach my students is giving back and kindness," Montanez said Wednesday, as students worked to prepare the soup for Thursday's dinner. "We all decided together that, one thing they want to do, is give back to the community and serve the Good Samaritan Shelter."

"Students have been working for the last couple of weeks to make the pillows," Diaz said Thursday, as a handful of students prepared to give the pillows to their new owners. "We wanted to get an opportunity to come out and give back to the community."

Adolfo Martinez stood over a stock pot Wednesday afternoon, sauteing onions and tomatoes for the soup base. Forced to stretch out their preparation and cooking time over four, 50-minute periods of class, Martinez said the recipe was a good way to hone his skills in the kitchen and provide for those in the community.

"I didn't think we would do something like this," he said, "I thought we were just cooking for ourselves. When she said we were cooking for Good Samaritan Shelter, I realized I wouldn't mind helping out."

As Montanez's students worked to complete their soup Thursday afternoon, Diaz guided her students to complete their collection of blankets and pillows. A longtime district teacher and recent transfer to Pioneer Valley, Diaz said she enjoyed working with students on a project they were passionate about and interest in.

"They had done the project last year so I happily jumped in," she said. "It was a great experience from start to finish."

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As Good Samaritan residents began to filter through the doors of their dining hall Thursday night, 25 sets of hands — including Martinez's — worked behind the scenes to provide residents with tableside food and drink service.

"It's always nice to see a smile on somebody's face when you hand them something," said David Bickham, volunteer coordinator at Good Samaritan Shelter. "Most of the residents can't afford to go eat at a restaurant and are used to waiting in line for everything. Tonight, they're going to be able to sit down, have a good meal and exhale."

Twice per night every day of the week, Bickham coordinates a team of volunteers to cook and serve dinner for the shelter's more than 160 residents. The shelter does not employ any kitchen staff, he said, touting the roughly 40 different teams of volunteers routinely step in to provide dinner service that night. 

Martinez helped work the kitchen Thursday night, foregoing his usual ritual of hanging out with friends. Shifting his attention between a pot soup on the stove to pitchers of iced tea other volunteers had prepared, Martinez paused to look out at the residents eat their food and talk among themselves.

"It makes me feel good when the children get happy after they get their food," he said. "It gives you a different view of life — seeing how the people get happy just to see a meal. This means a lot to them and I'm glad we could be here."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.