by Laura Toscano, director of The Campus Kitchens Project
We know that hunger doesn’t take a summer break when our student volunteers are away from campus. This year, the Campus Kitchen at the University of Virginia (CKUVA) made an incredible leap: for the first time ever, they made sure the meals and friendly faces didn’t stop coming around to those in need during the summer.
It’s a challenge and a great opportunity. Summer is when most of our student volunteers are away from campus, but it’s also a time of need in the community. For instance, local kids who get free lunch at school are overwhelmingly at risk in the summer of not getting those meals at all. And with the right partnerships, a Campus Kitchen is poised to be a perfect solution to this issue, especially in a place like Charlottesville, where there is an incredible abundance of fresh local produce in the summer months.
As the director of The Campus Kitchens Project, I often wish I had the opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen at all of our locations nationwide, menu planning and chopping veggies and delivering meals alongside our volunteers. So this summer, I spent five weeks shadowing and volunteering with CKUVA as they achieved their goal of continuing their meal service over the summer for the very first time. This year, our national office worked with Ameriprise Financial to ensure that we could give a grant to three Campus Kitchens working toward this goal, and I was excited to see it in action.
CKUVA is a leader within the network when it comes to developing partnerships that enable them to provide scratch-cooked nutritious meals using fresh local produce. Each week on Friday, they visit the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, volunteer and take home food that is past its selling point but still nutritious to use in client meals. I looked forward to this volunteer shift every week, and to the spontaneous meal planning that happened on the drive back with the mystery assortment of fruits and veggies.
One of our big goals this year is to create food access for those in need. With students able to commit some of that extra time towards preparation, we see Virginia-grown food ending up in the hands and stomachs of those who need it…In short, it makes sense to partner with Campus Kitchen because of the shared benefits–food gets to those in need, students learn about systems that reinforce the local economy, and we have valuable help with day-to-day activities each week.
The Local Food Hub is an innovator in its own right, and part of a growing Food Hub movement that also includes our very own DC Central Kitchen. According to the National Good Food Network, “a regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.”
CKUVA is the first to partner with its regional Food Hub, but we know they won’t be the only one as this movement grows nationwide. We hope that as more Campus Kitchens turn toward incorporating seasonal, local produce in their meals, partnerships like these will make it easy, educational and fun for students to stick around and keep on cooking over the summer months.
At The Campus Kitchens Project, we’re acutely aware of a huge paradox that exists in the United States: while 40 percent of the food produced in this country is never consumed, 1 in 6 Americans do not know where their next meal will come from. This conundrum is what motivates our student leaders to rescue food that would have otherwise gone to waste and use it to create healthy meals for hungry people. This summer, another food waste-fighting organization is raising awareness of this issue in a whole new way: they are biking across America.
Back in April, we had the pleasure of meeting Benjamin Rasmus of Rotary First Harvest (RFH) at our first-ever Food Waste & Hunger Summit. RFH works with farmers, truckers, volunteers and others to bring valuable skills and resources into hunger relief efforts in communities across Washington state. This summer, Benjamin kicked off Bike Against Hunger, a new initiative aimed at raising awareness of food waste and hunger in the United States. And just last week, on Monday afternoon, the Campus Kitchen at Northwestern University (CKNU) had the pleasure of hosting him as he stopped in Evanston, Ill.
All along his journey across America, Benjamin has been stopping by community organizations to witness their efforts to tackle food waste and hunger. At CKNU, Benjamin wanted to learn more about our scope of operations, and see exactly how we create more than 4,800 meals each month during the summer. So he pitched in, helping to build 50 individual meals consisting of tilapia, couscous and salad. And in return, CKNU volunteers and student leaders learned more about his adventure and just how their work fits into what’s being done across the country.
Thanks so much for making a pit stop at CKNU, Benjamin! We are honored to support your inspiring 10 week, 3,500 mile bike ride to raise national awareness for an issue so close to our hearts. Can’t wait to welcome you to Washington, DC next week!
photo from Bike Against Hunger website