For many Campus Kitchens, this week began with a “day on,” not a day off, in honor of the national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. The Campus Kitchen at Washington, DC (CKWDC) was just one of the Campus Kitchens participating in the day. CKWDC partnered with American University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service to serve more than 200 meals at the United Planning Organization’s Community Impact Day in southeast DC. Volunteers served healthy, balanced meals to community members who also had access to health and wellness information and clothing donations while they enjoyed kids’ activities, music and the MLK Day parade passing by outside. CKWDC volunteers (including myself) also handed out recipes and healthy snack ideas from our Building Blocks for Healthy Kids nutrition education curriculum, and partnered with D.C. Hunger Solutions to raise awareness about SNAP and other federal nutrition assistance programs.
MLK Day itself was the culmination of a weekend of meal preparation at CKWDC. Under the guidance of the talented Chef Anthony, students from American University, Georgetown University and The George Washington University joined community volunteers to prepare extra meals to serve on MLK Day in addition to CKWDC’s usual weekend meal service. Many who usually volunteer for cooking shifts helped serve the meals on Monday. Annalee, a student at American who is a regular at CKWDC’s cooking shifts, noted the powerful impact of having the opportunity to meet the people enjoying the meals she had prepared.
This MLK Day of Service activity was not only an opportunity for these students to participate in direct service; it was an example of the long-term engagement and leadership development that Campus Kitchens across the country promote. Annalee has stepped up to help CKWDC recruit more volunteers from American this semester, and participating in all aspects of CKWDC’s operations has empowered her to better communicate the scope of the Campus Kitchen’s impact to her fellow students.
In addition to strengthening community connections and empowering student leaders, CKWDC’s participation in the Community Impact Day embodied The Campus Kitchens Project’s goal of using service as a tool to achieve broader change. While we were serving healthy meals to meet an immediate need, we were also proud to support UPO and other organizations’ efforts to give people the skills and tools to make ongoing improvements in their own lives. As a member of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps, I was honored to be one of many VISTA members around the country to catalyze MLK Day to help “move society beyond the soup kitchen” by promoting Dr. King’s vision of economic as well as racial equity. Partnerships like CKWDC’s participation in UPO’s Community Impact Day help me understand how Campus Kitchens across our network are working to build Dr. King’s “beloved community” by not only strengthening relationships across difference but also fighting the root causes of hunger and poverty.