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Food for thought

Campus Kitchens could serve a better feed by serving the University community

Even with adequate administrative support, an admirable cause and a physical location out of which to operate, a student-led initiative is bound to fail if it lacks sustainable manpower. Such is the case with the Campus Kitchens project, a student-driven project intended to provide surplus dining hall food to the Charlottesville homeless.

The Campus Kitchens group seeks to provide Charlottesville’s homeless population with the leftover food from University dining halls, but it faces a huge obstacle in their lack of student volunteers. Its goal of collecting and redistributing the excess of three meals a day from all University dining facilities requires a huge base of volunteers, and the fourth-year students who have begun to establish the Campus Kitchens project over the past few years now struggle to find younger replacements as they prepare to graduate. Involving the University dining staff is out of the question; the University’s dining halls, run by Aramark, function as a business, not a charity. Campus Kitchens at the University must therefore remain a student-driven initiative.

Although its mission is sound, the project could serve its intended purpose far more effectively by examining the needs of those even closer to home: University employees who could benefit from a few free meals a week. University Dining Services has enthusiastically thrown its support behind Campus Kitchens, even providing the group with a base of operations at Runk Dining Hall. Campus Kitchens would be wise to harness this support toward a more effective end: working with the dining halls to provide leftover meals to University employees, many of whom would appreciate the extra help in troubled economic times.

Another problem Campus Kitchens faces is a shortage of food. The amount of food taken to the Amelia landfill might seem excessive, but because of health code regulations, much of the food set out must be thrown away. Also, as a business, the dining halls are constantly trying to minimize waste and prepare a certain quantity of food based on how much food students have consumed in the past. Because the dining halls already are trying to minimize excess food, only a small percentage is available for redistribution.

Rather than expend what little manpower and resources it has making a tiny difference in the broader Charlottesville community, the Campus Kitchens group should work with the dining halls to distribute food efficiently to University employees who need a hand. By turning its well-intentioned eye inward, Campus Kitchens could make a tangible difference in the lives of staff members. Many University employee families have been adversely impacted by the recent economic turmoil, and by providing extra food for employees, Campus Kitchens can be effective than its current goal. Providing extra food to employees would be a more feasible operation, as it requires a smaller student workforce on a daily basis, and one that Campus Kitchens could reasonably take on with its present volunteer base.

Campus Kitchens could easily transition into a project like this, first working with University Dining Services to see if there is an actual need among employees. If no such need exists, concerned students could focus on the largest waste of food on Grounds: their peers. As Dining Services Director Brent Beringer points out, students who put too much on their plates are “pound for pound absolutely the single largest waste of food” in dining halls. Both University Dining Services and Campus Kitchens seek to eliminate waste, and they could find no better target than that.

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