This weekend Lee University was the site of the National Campus Kitchens Conference
“The Campus Kitchen Project is a national nonprofit organization based out of Washington (D.C),” AmeriCorps VISTA Stephen Van Gorp said.
Many institutions of higher learning have affiliate programs such as the one at Lee University.
“What we essentially try to do is take the food that would just otherwise be thrown out and go to waste and try to reclaim it and put it toward a beneficial use,” Van Gorp said.
“We take the food that’s untouched — that isn’t contaminated — and we turn it into a healthy alternative for someone who can’t afford it.”
He said the project reduces waste while providing for the needs of others.
“It’s really cool for the Campus Kitchen projects. It’s almost like Christmas. It’s everyone coming together... and getting to share together and to learn together,” Van Gorp said.
The Campus Kitchen of the University of Georgia presented information on reaching their target audience of the elderly.
People for Care and Learning and Whiteboard also presented on their organizations’ activities.
Lee University Vice President for Student Development Mike Hayes and professor Dr. Murl Dirksen also spoke.
The Lee University Campus Kitchen Project has been serving select areas of Cleveland for three years
“One of our biggest goals is for the meals to be healthy and to be nutritional,” co-coordinator Katie Logan, a sophomore at Lee, said. “Our goal is to teach more nutritious education.”
The Campus Kitchen tries to have a protein, starch or vegetable and a dessert in every meal. They focus on healthy dessert alternatives.
In an effort to offer more healthy options, the program has partnered with The Greenway Table to provide more fresh vegetables in meals.
The project is also planning to be a part of nutritious food education classes with The Greenway
“Now we are kind of setting the foundation by giving them nutritious meals and in the future to say, ‘I’ve been giving you this nutritious food for the past year. Now let me tell you how we do it and the importance of doing it,” Logan said.
She said she wanted to be involved after working at The Leonard Center office and seeing the project in action.
“It was kind of something I saw from the outside; the effects it was making on the community,” Logan said.
During her time with the project, Logan said one of her favorite moments was when a little boy enjoyed a granola bar after initially being disappointed it wasn’t a cookie.
She said it was a great opportunity to show more nutritious options can taste good.
Logan oversees much of the administrative aspects of the program, while co-coordinator Casey Hogue, a junior at Lee, is over the cooking aspects.
“This is my third year, but my first year being involved in leadership,” Hogue said.
Hogue said she wanted to become involved in the project after seeing a poster on campus.
“I was looking for something having to do with social justice to get involved with at Lee, but I didn’t know it was going to become such a regular thing,” Hogue said.
She had no idea how involved she would become with the program.
Volunteers deliver food to Cleveland residents every Tuesday night in two locations. The project partners with the Backyard Ministries club on campus. On Friday mornings, teams provide breakfast for those staying at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter.
Gorp said serving with Friday morning was his first introduction to the program.
The Campus Kitchen Project is made possible through multiple partnerships.
Hogue said students pick up food from Cooke’s and Bi-Lo just about everyday. The group also purchases some supplies from the Chattanooga Food Bank. A partnership with Wesley Memorial Methodist Church provides the students a place to prepare the meals.
The leadership team keeps track of the inventory from which to build a menu.
Food safety is a main concern for the program.
Van Gorp said precautions are taken to ensure food is cooked and kept at correct temperatures.
“On all of our shifts there is at least one person who is serve- safe certified,” Hogue said.
The project runs on a solid base of 10 to 12 volunteers, according to Logan.
Hogue said the team is always looking to grow and add volunteers.