Story by Kelsey Green • Photos by Lauren Maldonado
Every day of the week, several different volunteers dedicate a few hours of their time and lend a hand to the food-insecure seniors of the Athens community. Through the Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia, students and faculty help end senior hunger and reduce food waste by collecting food that would have otherwise been thrown out and turning it into meals that will be delivered around the community to those who need it most. Founded on October 4, 2012, the Campus Kitchen at UGA became the 33rd and newest branch of the nationwide program. Paired with Our Daily Bread, the Athens Community Council on Aging and the Campus Kitchen at UGA’s other various volunteer programs, students and faculty immediately see the effect they have on the community, where approximately one out of five Athens-Clarke County residents are considered food-insecure.
Volunteering with the Campus Kitchen at UGA is flexible and open to students with busy schedules. “The great thing about our organization is that we have a lot of flexibility,” says co-President Elizabeth Parr, a senior economic and health promotion and behavior major from Atlanta. With shifts each day and varying roles within the organization, students and faculty can always find a time that works for them. Options include cooking shifts on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, produce harvesting with UGArden on Wednesday mornings and afternoons, meal deliveries on Thursdays, meal packing on Mondays and food collection on Sundays. “There is no expectation with how much you volunteer. You can volunteer at one shift, or you can volunteer a ton. We’ll love you either way,” says Parr.
As part of the food collection shifts, volunteers sort through all the food that the local grocery stores donate and decide what can and cannot be used within the organization. If food cannot be used, the Campus Kitchen at UGA is associated with other community partner organizations such as Our Daily Bread, an organization that works to feed the homeless, to ensure that food is not wasted. Rebecca Webb, a senior biology major from Kennesaw, says, “Meal plan sorts through the food, and a lot of times there’s just too much food that can’t be incorporated or will expire before we can cook it, so we bring it to Our Daily Bread.”
A way volunteers truly connect with the community and their clients is through the Campus Kitchen at UGA’s additional volunteer program, Lunch Buddy. “This is the program where we send our students and faculty members once a week to eat with our clients,” says Parr. The Athens Community Council on Aging helps coordinate this program by pairing up the Campus Kitchen at UGA’s volunteers with members of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program. The ACCA’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program helps inter-generational families by providing them with home-based and community resources to improve their physical and emotional health. As a part of the Lunch Buddy program, volunteers go to the homes of the seniors and spend time with them eating, trying to help fill that inter-generational gap and give the seniors company and social interaction that they may not otherwise have. “Our role is to bring them healthy food, and we work to make sure the seniors are eating well-balanced meals.We don’t just drop the food off; we spend an hour and eat lunch with them. It’s a really fun experience,” says Rachel Lopilato, a senior biological chemistry major from Alpharetta. “I learned so much from my lunch buddy. You’re there to help them, but then at some point you become friends and you start to help each other.” According to Lopilato, the program has continued to really grow, and in two semesters the number of lunch buddies has tripled.
Along with the growing number of lunch buddies, in the 2013-2014 year alone, 881 students volunteered at least once with organization dedicating 4,064 hours of volunteering. During that time, 31,674 pounds of food were recovered and 13,594 meals were prepared for 219 clients.
With its growing numbers and assortment of ways students and community members alike can volunteer, the Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia makes a long-lasting impact on the Athens community by reducing unnecessary food waste and helping those who may need it. Webb says her favorite part is “being able to really see the direct impact you have on the community. Whereas, you know, a lot of times you can either donate money which you ensure it goes to good things or you can donate blood and it goes off, but here you see the meals and you can see exactly where they go. It’s pretty awesome.”