Nancy McWilliams

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Nancy McWilliams hands out information on voting registration to people lined up in cars during a recent Second Harvest food tailgate in Muncie, Indiana. McWilliams volunteers on the nonprofit’s poverty elimination team. “To see this many people who are up at this time of the day so that they can get extras for their house is just amazing—amazingly awful,” McWilliams said.

By Kate H. Elliott, photos by Terence Lightning

“My dad was a farmer, but he also worked second shift at a factory to make ends meet. He’d get home about at midnight, but he’d always wake up at 6:30 a.m. to eat breakfast with our family. He’d get two eggs, and we got one, always served with some meat and toast. So, if you ever want to make me happy, scramble me some cheesy eggs. They taste of warm family memories.” — Nancy McWilliams, associate professor of economics at Ivy Tech Community College.

We met Nancy McWilliams at Second Harvest’s Fill-a-Bowl event Friday, March 2. Alongside her students, she served soup to community members eager to hear about the food bank’s work in East Central Indiana. McWilliams weaves service learning and her own story of generational poverty into her courses at Ivy Tech Community College, where she serves as an associate professor of economics and department chair of humanities and communications.

“My economics classes incorporate service learning through hands-on experiences that focus on poverty awareness and social justice,” said the first-generation college student, who has taught at Ivy Tech since 2004. “My students leave Second Harvest changed, and determined to do what they can—though their professional and personal lives—to build up neighbors and invest in their communities.”

McWilliams regularly makes treats for her students, who nodded—with grateful smiles—as she listed off the pumpkin squares, cookies, and magic bars that delight them.

“As I feed them with knowledge, I also take the opportunity to sit down with them to feed our souls and our stomachs,” she said. “My students come from all ethnic and situational backgrounds, and we often connect and collaborate through food. It connects us all.”

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The soups served during Second Harvest’s Fill-a-Bowl event, which brought the community together in support of the nonprofit, which works to feed the hungry and eliminate poverty. Several businesses and nonprofits donated soup to the day.

McWilliam’s favorite dish to share is her mother’s pumpkin squares, a light spice cake. The Anderson resident said sharing her family flavors with her students is particularly meaningful since her mother, Ruth Majors, died in 2010. “Her spirit lives on through those recipes and the community I build in sharing them.”

Ruth’s Pumpkin Squares

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pint/cup of fresh pumpkin or squash (canned if fresh is not available)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 cups of sugar
    • Substitute sugar substitute of choice for sugar free cake
  • 2 cups of flour
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spices (but adjust according to your taste)
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine beaten eggs, oil and sugar. Mix all dry ingredients except spices. Add dry ingredients slowly with mixer on a low speed. Mix till all dry is incorporated into the egg mixture, then add pumpkin and spices to batter. Stir in nuts by hand. Bake 20-25 minutes. Cool cake completely before icing.

Frosting ingredients:

  • 1 stick of room temperature butter
  • 8 ounces of room temperature cream cheese
  • 16 ounces of powdered sugar

Directions: Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixer. Slowly add powdered sugar on a low speed until all ingredients are well incorporated.

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