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February 24, 2011 / HandsOnCorps

Witnessing the Campus Kitchen Magic: A Week at Campus Kitchen Lee

Launched in 2001, The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) engages students to recycle unserved food from school dining halls and use that food to prepare and deliver meals to those in need in their communities. Our parent organization, DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), operating in Washington DC since 1989, established this innovative model of food recycling and meal delivery, which has received widespread recognition and serves as a national model for efficient, effective hunger relief for low-income people. Together, more than 24,000 volunteers at 29 Campus Kitchens in 20 states have recovered 1.2 million pounds of food and delivered more than 1.2 million meals to our 200 community partners across the country.

I recently had the opportunity to travel down to Cleveland, TN to witness first hand the magic of a Campus Kitchen in action. Our visit began with a cooking shift. Shift volunteers helped make green beans and brownies, both meant to compliment the hearty meal prepared in partnership with Sodexo’s kitchen staff. It was great to watch volunteers work together and watch the leaders empower their team to efficiently produce these yummy supplements.

The next day started early with trips to grocery stores across Cleveland that partner with the University to provide food for the on-campus Food Bank. (Click here to find out what Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen learned when he visited the Lee Food Bank). In the course of our short morning adventure, we picked up over 800 lbs. of food. The food bank provides food to Lee students in need during the week and collects anywhere from 500 to 2000 lbs. of food each day!

After discussing some of the business of running a Campus Kitchen safely and successfully, we set out with students to deliver the meal that had been prepared the night before. It was busy in the Lee Dining Hall Kitchen during dinner, but the staff was happy to help the Campus Kitchen leaders prepare the meal and ensure that everything was properly temped and stored.

We then ventured to J-Mack Circle to meet up with volunteers from Lee’s Backyard Ministry, who provide tutoring and mentoring services to the youth in the neighborhood. The weather took a turn for the worse, but not a single volunteer was deterred from accomplishing their goal. From the corner of the tent (which I was holding up in the face of gusting wind and rain!), I was able to watch a community come together in gratitude around hot food and good company.

Once we dried off, we had an opportunity to bond and brainstorm with CK Lee’s leadership team, a group filled with great ideas for the continued thriving and expansion of their Campus Kitchen.

We rounded out the week with the Mayors’ Coalition Launch of the Bradley County Community Action Network. As was mentioned in an earlier CKP Blog post, this gathering of organizations will collaborate to confront hunger in Bradley County and ensure that as many people as possible have access to a brighter, more sustainable future. All in all, our adventures at CK Lee provided a clearer picture of why the work of a Campus Kitchen is so vital to both the community and the university.


Thanks to everyone at CK Lee for all that they did to ensure that our trip was worthwhile, and thank you to anyone who works in any Campus Kitchen; the contribution you make is truly magical!

-Abbie Steiner
Community Development Coordinator
AmeriCorps VISTA
The Campus Kitchens Project


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