Not knowing when your next meal is coming or not having access to three balanced meals a day is the definition of food insecurity.
According to mapthemealgap, in Baldwin County, about 23 percent of residents are affected by food insecurity. That’s more than 10,000 people in the county.
For Georgia College students Cameron Skinner and Julia Steele, that percentage is too high. The two collaborated to come up with a plan for bringing the national organization, The Campus Kitchens Project, to Milledgeville and Baldwin County. In the process, the two managed to put some bricks in the bridge between the college campus and the community as well as make a small dent in the 23 percent affected by food insecurity.
“We are environmental science majors,” Cameron Skinner, co-founder/co-president of the Campus Kitchen at Georgia College said. “We’re interested in sustainability, waste reduction — all of the sustainable topics, and so we were at an Atlanta Climate Summit at Georgia State University in April 2016 and a student panel was speaking about how to combat excessive food waste on their campus and she threw out the term ‘campus kitchen,’ and we thought that sounded catchy. So we confronted the student after the session was over and we asked her did she have any contact information on someone from the national organization. We reached out and they got back to us soon after and that’s kind of where the planning journey began, in 2016.”
For the past two years, the two students have worked diligently to provide a way for people to get food. The Campus Kitchens Project proved the perfect recipe for what they were searching for.
The Campus Kitchens Project is a national initiative that was founded in 2001 and originated from the nonprofit, DC Central Kitchen. The project gears itself toward university and high school campuses across the country. Students transform unused food from dining halls, grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers’ markets into meals for their community.
“We know that food waste and food insecurity are issues globally and nationally,” Anne Rosenthal, southeast regional program specialist at The Campus Kitchens Project said.
“The solutions have to be very tailored to specific communities and geared toward using resources that are available in very specific contexts.”
Providing the research on the specific contexts was what Steele and Skinner were tasked with at the start. When they learned about the 23 percent food insecurity in their college town, they knew that Baldwin County was an ideal candidate for the next campus kitchen.
“We do see a large gap between the campus population and the community population and so bridging that gap was very important and campus kitchen seemed like the perfect way to do that,” Skinner said.
The Life Enrichment Center (LEC) is the first community partner with The Campus Kitchen Project at Georgia College. The LEC is a nonprofit program for adults with intellectual disabilities living in the Baldwin County area.
The students with The Campus Kitchen Project at Georgia College do all the recovery and prep of the food. The dining hall at GC saves the food that is normally thrown away at the end of the day. Following all serve safe standards, the students pick it up and transport it to the LEC where it is prepared and served. Skinner and Steele said this model of recovery and prep may change in the future depending on who they partner with in the community.
“Last night at our inaugural shift, we served about 50 meals and we recovered about 40 to 50 pounds of food from our dining hall,” Skinner said last week. “That, in itself, was a mid-sized first shift. So our ultimate goal is to recover even more food because we want to cut waste from the dining hall and we also want to cut food waste from the community, so as we recover more food, we obviously will get to feed more individuals.”
The LEC is their first community partner.
“There is a certain group at the Life Enrichment Center, it’s called the Creative Enrichment Center, and that is an after-hours activity or event that allows these people that have these intellectual disabilities to all get together, eat a meal and possibly do another activity. This particular group meets three times a month, two Tuesdays and one Saturday a month, so that’s kind of our goal right now.”
Skinner and Steele added that in there is a lot of opportunity for growth in the community for the organization, but they want to start at a manageable rate.
“They will be looking ultimately to expand,” Rosenthal said. “That means expanding to serve either more frequently at this community center or with other community partners. They will also kind of be actively exploring other potential recovery partners — they could be restaurants, grocers, farms in the area, so in those ways, they will be looking to expand.”
“I think one of our next goals is our next clientele being the elderly,” Steele said.
Food alone will never end hunger or end the cycle of food insecurity, however. Campus Kitchens at all of the local levels are also put into place to start a conversation about the national issue, how to get involved, and about how to ultimately become a positive force to help those caught in the gap.
“We have the voice to bring an issue like food waste to light,” Steele said. “We want to show the community that there is a way and there is food that’s available to people and it’s very accessible and that we have the ability to actually help these people directly. It took a long time, we had to go through a lot of loopholes and cross a lot of red tape, but essentially, there is a way to relieve hunger in your community.”