With a little creativity and a lot of partner support, the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech continues to increase food access in the New River Valley during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Campus Kitchen program is a partnership between two student affairs units: VT Engage and Virginia Tech Dining Services. The program addresses food security issues and food waste by recovering unserved food from campus dining centers and then delivering the food to nonprofit agencies in the New River Valley.
“We knew that if it was in any way possible, we wanted to keep Campus Kitchen running,” said Kas Church, the campus and community engagement coordinator for VT Engage. “Because of our incredible colleagues in Dining Services, we have been able to continue to get unserved food to our community partners.”
Since its inception in the fall of 2015, hundreds of Campus Kitchen volunteers have diverted more than 188,000 pounds of unserved food from campus to community partners, the equivalent of more than 28 female African elephants.
Campus Kitchen is normally a student-led program but once all student events were suspended, Virginia Tech employees volunteered to step in and run the program. During a typical week, Dining Services employees and VT Engage student leaders work together in six dining centers to repackage and set aside unserved food to be picked up on daily, weekday deliveries. But since the campus shutdown, employees in Dietrick, Owens, Au Bon Pain, and Southgate have completely taken over this part of the process.
“Our first goal is always to serve our students,” said Anthony Purcell, assistant director for Dining Services’ Southgate Center. “But in this situation, rather than sending the food to a composting facility, Campus Kitchen allowed us to divert that food into our community where we knew there would be an increased need.”
Three VT Engage team members and an employee from the Dean of Students Office stepped up to deliver food three days a week – a change from the program’s typical schedule of six deliveries per week. Each week, those deliveries are brought to three partners: Radford-Fairlawn Daily Bread in Radford on Mondays, Plenty! Farm and Food Bank in Floyd on Wednesdays, and The Giving Tree Food Pantry in Christiansburg on Fridays.
While the reduction in Dining Services’ operations meant that less unserved food is being produced on campus, at the same time dining employees worked to clear out stored food that could no longer be used for student meals. In the past two months, the Campus Kitchen team has delivered more than 10,100 pounds of food to community organizations.
As the need for food increased in the community and Campus Kitchen’s regular partners’ needs changed, the team checked with organizations to see if they could use the excess food to ensure as little food as possible went to waste. As the team contacted other organizations, they were able to set up temporary arrangements to deliver food to an additional five organizations during the crisis: New River Valley Agency on Aging, The Shelter, The Future Economy Collective, Hazel Bea Catering, and Millstone Kitchen.
Going forward into the summer, the Campus Kitchen team expects the amount of unserved food to slow down considerably. But the team plans to continue as long as there is food available to take to community partners. “We are committed to providing food to those in need in our community as long as possible,” said Meghan Weyrens Kuhn, interim director for VT Engage. “This team has worked tirelessly to ensure food from the campus continues to flow to community partners.”