From November 17 through November 24, our director, Laura, participated in the SNAP Challenge as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. We posted at the beginning of the challenge and mid-way through about her progress. Now that she’s wrapped up the challenge, here are her final thoughts.
I completed the SNAP challenge yesterday after a full week of cooking for two on $64. We wound up a bit under budget on Friday, so I picked up $2 of sausage to add to the strata (an egg and cheese casserole that’s one of my favorite ways to stretch food) I made for dinner.
This week, I’m looking forward to visiting my extended family for Thanksgiving with a newfound sense of gratefulness for the food. To give you a sense of how Italian our Thanksgiving is, the eggplant parmigiana plays just as central of a role on the table as the turkey. In general during the SNAP challenge, I really enjoyed going back to my Italian roots by making bread, pizza, gnocchi and strata, as it made me feel connected to those roots and remember how important it is to have a food culture when dealing with such a limited budget.
I think it would be incredibly naïve of me to say that now I understand what someone living on food stamps is experiencing. Yes, it was hard for me to give up many things. But at the same time, I managed to cook many satisfying and balanced meals on this budget, thanks in large part to the fact that I have a fully equipped kitchen, and that’s not really fair. I read an article recently by someone actually living day-to-day on this type of budget that pointed out a microwave and a dorm-sized fridge is often all that’s available. The article also noted that cooking takes time, more time than people often have, and carries the risk of messing up and going without a meal. I know I was worried about that on gnocchi night.
But at the same time, I still think it’s a valuable idea to keep encouraging people to find their food cultures and traditions and cook healthy food, no matter where they’re starting from. Food has the power to change lives. Food brings people together, around our tables and in our communities. I came away from the challenge inspired about the work that we do here every day at The Campus Kitchens Project, and at each one of our locations across the country.
We are thrilled to have the Campus Kitchen at Meredith College (CKMC) become our 34th Campus Kitchen nationally and our fourth in North Carolina. During their first months, CKMC will focus primarily on youth hunger and will recover food from campus dining halls, a local Fresh Market grocery store and the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.
Matt, our community development coordinator, spent most of this week down in Raleigh meeting everyone involved with CKMC, walking students through Campus Kitchen best practices and solidified a structure for their weekly operations. As part of this orientation week, the student volunteers with CKMC cooked a dinner of noodles, chicken legs and salad for children at the Kentwood Learning Center. The meal was a hit, and even led one child to announce that the salad was better than his mom made!
Read more about the addition of the Campus Kitchen at Meredith College to our growing network in our press release.
We’ve been so busy here at The Campus Kitchens Project that we haven’t had a chance to update you on Laura’s SNAP Challenge. Here are excerpts from her documentation of how the challenge has gone on days 2 through 4.
Yesterday was a hungry day. I think one of the toughest things about doing the SNAP challenge is that you have to start with a clean slate. If there’s one thing that The Campus Kitchens Project can teach people, it’s the value of leftovers. I always have leftovers in the fridge, and incorporate them into new meals, so starting out the week with literally nothing but a shopping trip was tough.
Last night, in addition to making dinner, I started a few projects to get set up for the week. Dinner was roast chicken with potatoes and onions. As usual, we ate the leg quarters of the chicken for dinner and saved the breast for another use. The wings are reserved for lunch with our miso soup today. While I was roasting the potatoes, I made four extra which I grated and turned into gnocchi, frozen and ready for Wednesday night.
After dinner, we cut the backbone out of the chicken and roasted it flat, using the backbone, gizzards, onion, carrot and parsnip to make stock. On a whim I threw the roasted potato skins in as well that I had peeled off to make the gnocchi. The stock will go into the butternut squash soup tonight, and in black beans later in the week.
After yesterday, I have leftovers! Every Campus Kitchen volunteer’s favorite thing.
Last night’s meal was focused on getting some good vegetables into our system after the chicken and potatoes dinner we had. We turned some stock into butternut squash soup with kale, carrots and corn. We have four pints of soup left over – lunch for two days.
We also had a lot of fun baking a crusty loaf of Italian bread. We didn’t have quite as much fun rationing the bread so it would last through the week. The idea is to save some for tonight’s gnocchi dinner and some for the strata (egg and bread casserole) that I’m making later in the week.
Soup is one of the best approaches to eating healthy food on a budget. Yesterday was a bit of a soup overload between having miso soup for lunch and butternut squash soup for dinner. But we have both been surprised how satisfying miso soup can be when loaded up with scallions, ginger and a few small greens or a single sliced white mushroom. A bit of miso paste lasts a long time.
Conversation last night turned to the fact that while we’re eating on a SNAP budget, we have a lot of tools and equipment in the kitchen that help make it possible. Some on SNAP might not have any resources at all. It was a bit comical to bake our own bread (in a Le Creuset pot) and have soup for dinner (but whip out the immersion blender to puree it).
Last night was the biggest risk of the SNAP meal plan: homemade gnocchi. As I was creating the meal plan, my plan was to make pasta. However, I realized that with all the potatoes I had, gnocchi would be a better plan. I’ve heard horror stories about how hard it is to make. So I tackled making the gnocchi on the very first night, just in case I had to do it twice, and tossed it in the freezer.
If you read my meal plan, you’ll know I was planning to make gnocchi with garlic tomato sauce. On our last trip to the grocery store yesterday, we discovered that we didn’t have the money left to buy tomatoes. We purchased cheddar cheese, broccoli, tortillas and eggs, and then found we were coming up short.
One of my favorite things about the SNAP program is that it can be used to purchase seeds. To highlight that great aspect of the program, I’m allowing myself to use food that I have grown from seed on my windowsill. Thanks to a couple of very green thumbs (not mine), this currently includes massive amounts of basil. We caramelized some onions, added a pseudo-pesto of basil and garlic and used that for the sauce. On the side, another piece of awesome homemade bread.
As part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, our director, Laura Toscano, has decided to participate in the SNAP Challenge. Here are her initial thoughts about the challenge and her meal plan for the week.
Let me begin by saying I have no earthly idea what it’s like to be hungry. Feeding people I love and celebrating with food form a core part of my identity. I’m like an Italian grandmother.
When I started working at The Campus Kitchens Project, I knew I believed in the cause. I loved food and saw its potential as a tool for change, but I also knew that I personally needed some serious remedial education on the issue of hunger. For that reason, I’m taking the SNAP challenge this week.
I’m cooking for two, and plan to do a lot of it. I’m hoping that by drawing on some traditional scratch cooking methods that aren’t used much these days, and by drawing inspiration from a few different food traditions, I’ll be able to eat balanced and healthy meals on this budget. I may be in for a rude awakening on that front.
Here are my rules and promises:
- $64.27 is the average weekly SNAP, or food stamp, benefit for DC times two people. This way of calculating benefits for the SNAP challenge is recommended by the Food Research and Action Center. So this is how much I’ll spend this week.
- The only food I will use other than what I have bought is basic salt and pepper. No olive oil. No spices. I will use items that I have grown from seed on my windowsill (currently basil and some other small greens).
- I will not take free food or drink offered by others or at public events.
I shopped on Saturday afternoon. I decided to leave some shopping for later in the week in case I am running short on funds or have more leftovers than I anticipated. I created a meal plan ahead of time, and my total for the first trip to the grocery came to $46.63. I shopped at my usual grocery store and a Japanese market around the corner.
I’ve learned a few things already. Whether grocery delivery or pickup is offered at your local store or not, looking for food prices online and making a list ahead of time is really useful. Also, where did scales for weighing produce go? I didn’t notice they were gone from grocery markets until I needed one. I was quite a sight for the gentleman restocking the shelves, weighing a whole butternut squash in one hand and a two-pound package of pre-cut butternut squash in the other to try to figure which to buy. In this case, I couldn’t afford the better deal—the whole squash was less per pound, but it weighed a full pound more so it would have blown the budget.
So here’s my meal plan for the week:
I think it’ll be healthy and balanced… I admit it is definitely not low sodium with the amount of miso soup I am relying on. But it is varied, which is important.
We’ll post updates later in the week about Laura’s experience with the SNAP Challenge. To learn more about the Challenge, visit the Food Research and Action Center website.
The Campus Kitchen at UGA is so thankful for all of our incredible volunteers. We wanted to take a moment to spotlight a pretty cute couple who often volunteers together. They’re always so enthusiastic to volunteer and that enthusiasm is contagious! We asked them to tell us a little bit more about themselves and their volunteer experiences so far.
Where are you from? Marietta, GA
What is your major? Consumer Foods
What shifts have you volunteered during and which is your favorite? I volunteer during the cooking and meal delivery shifts. My favorite is cooking because I love to cook and it’s so fun to see the food I made go into the hands of those in need when I deliver on Thursdays.
What made you want to get involved with the Campus Kitchen? It’s a fun way for me to serve others while doing something I love. It was also a great way for me to meet new people who have similar interests as I do, but who I wouldn’t normally get the chance to talk to.
How has your volunteer experience impacted you? CKUGA reminds me every week how important it is to give back. It keeps my life in perspective and I always leave my shifts happier than when I started.
Why would you recommend volunteering for Campus Kitchen to other students? Campus Kitchen is such a fun way to get involved and anyone can do it. Everyone who volunteers is really nice and welcoming and it’s so rewarding to see the impact you are making every week.
Fun fact about yourself: Every time I do the cooking shift I crack tons of eggs and cut pounds of chicken, but I’m actually a vegan.
Where are you from? Columbus, GA
What is your major? Marketing
What shifts have you volunteered during and which is your favorite? I volunteer during the cooking and meal delivery shifts. My favorite is delivering because I really like interacting with the community and meeting new people.
What made you want to get involved with the Campus Kitchen? I went to the first volunteer meeting and knew it was something I wanted to be involved with.
How has your volunteer experience impacted you? The coolest part about volunteering with CKUGA is the relationships. Whether it is a kid in elementary school or a grandmother struggling to get by, everyone we meet is grateful and I always leave their homes with a smile on my face.
Why would you recommend volunteering for Campus Kitchen to other students? Yes! It offers a great chance to be hands on while serving the community. CKUGA has lots of different volunteer opportunities available, from cooked to organizing to delivering. There’s something for everyone!
Fun fact about yourself: I am currently building a Chesapeake-style kayak in my garage!
Thanksgiving came early this year for Schenectady, New York, residents as they celebrated Turkeypalooza with the Campus Kitchen at Union College (CKUC).
Turkeypalooza, a tradition where Campus Kitchens go above and beyond their normal operations to do a little something extra for their clients, occurs each year across The Campus Kitchens Project network around the holiday season.
On Saturday, November 2, nearly 100 Union College students and faculty/staff cooked and served a traditional Thanksgiving meal at City Mission, an agency dedicated to meeting the needs of the hungry and homeless in the Schenectady community.
Four hours before the meal was to be served, CKUC volunteers began to prepare green beans, stuffing and turkey donated or purchased from Union College dining services, and fresh carrots, sweet potatoes and white potatoes harvested from an on-campus garden. Other volunteers worked to create turkey centerpieces and other festive decor to brighten up the community meal space.
When it was time to eat, several faculty and staff from the college joined the students to help carve the turkeys and serve meals. During the meal, clients were serenaded by a Union College acapella group.
Two meal services later, CKUC volunteers had served over 200 clients a healthy Thanksgiving meal, components of which are difficult to procure in the area, which is classified as a food desert. What’s more, CKUC served nearly twice as many clients for Turkeypalooza as they do on a typical Saturday.
CKUC hosted the first of many Turkeypalooza events in The Campus Kitchens Project network. In fact, many schools are accepting food or monetary donations to make their increased meal services possible. If you would like to contribute to Turkeypalooza efforts, contact the Campus Kitchen near you today.
November has already been an exciting month here at The Campus Kitchens Project: our brand new Campus Kitchen planner is live, and we have a $5,000 grant competition to go with it!
Our new Campus Kitchen planner provides a step-by-step process for bringing a Campus Kitchen to your school, which will make the collaborative process of starting one a lot more fun. Anyone interested in learning more about what it takes to bring a Campus Kitchen to their school can see our entire process on a single page. Even better, each planning task can be assigned to an individual, and then physically checked off a list when it’s complete!
To go along with this awesome new tool, we’re also excited to announce our Online Planner Video Grant Competition, which is made possible by our great partner Sodexo. To qualify for the competition, a planning team must obtain the following documents (all of which are outlined in the planner) by December 1:
- letter of support from sponsoring office
- letter of support from dining services
- letter of support from student leader group
- letter of intent from school administration
Then, qualified teams will create short videos explaining why their community would benefit from a Campus Kitchen. We’ll select up to 10 finalists to compete, and then anyone can vote for their favorite video. The schools that receive the most votes on their video will win $5,000 each!
Ready to compete, or want to lean more? Get started by signing up for a new planner here!