Healing Meals

Dietetics major Sarah Wagner '18 is a summer intern at Family House in Peoria. (Photo provided)

Matt Hawkins
June 27, 2016

Dietetics major Sarah Wagner ’18 watched the dinner table transform into a safe place of healing for families as she interned this summer at Peoria’s Family House. Hot meals and fellowship nourished bodies, minds and souls as families gathered in the midst of medical challenges.

Family House is a hospitality residence for families of patients receiving care at Peoria’s network of hospitals. Interns like Wagner, a Mahomet, Illinois, native, ensure guests have healthy meal and snack options available.

Wagner’s formal duties focus on coordinating food service, planning meals and improving food and snack availabilities. Informally, she’s like another member of families staying at the facility.

“I love getting to know people and hearing their stories,” Wagner said. “I’m surprised how much people open up when they’re at their most vulnerable. They’re always willing to share a piece of their lives with me, and that makes this a rewarding experience.”

As she discovered, her constant presence in the kitchens and dining rooms meant she became more than a strange employee. She became an encourager, a family member.

The summer experience showed Wagner that effective dieticians are more than food experts. Through interaction with guests and staff mentors, she recognized her role as a compassionate listener as she worked with people.

“Families empower each other when they come together to eat,” Wagner said. “I smile whenever I see two families talking to each other over coffee or when a child is eating a cookie after a round of chemotherapy. I know I’ve made a positive impact on people’s lives when their worlds are full of uncertainty.”