Kokkinias (left): Campus Kitchens is working to 'hit that root case of poverty and hunger.'
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has to feed lots of people. On average, some 14,500 meals are served in the dormitory dining halls alone, every day.
Despite best efforts, some food necessarily goes to waste.
It bothered one biology major attending a 2013 seminar. "I noticed that perfectly good food that hadn’t been touched by anybody -- if it was brought out, it was thrown out," says Katherine Kokkinias, now a sophomore. "I thought, there's got to be something we can do about this."
Kokkinias isn't like most of us. She did do something about it. Along with students Colin McReavy, Shruti Rajan and Meaghan Sargent, the Chicago-area native formed a UW organization to feed the hungry with food that would otherwise go to waste.
Campus Kitchens is a nonprofit program based in Washington, D.C. It coordinates and advises service programs on feeding the hungry at more than 40 schools around the country, including UW-Eau Claire and UW-Green Bay. The first campus to take part was St. Louis University, in 2001.
In October Campus Kitchens awarded a $5,000 start-up grant for the Madison chapter, with funds provided by the American Association of Retired Persons.
Julie Luke, associate director of UW Dining and Culinary Services, has been working with the students from the beginning. "We clearly want to support this great effort of being better stewards of students' resources and funds," she says.
The UW has been working on the problem of waste for a long time, but mostly behind the scenes, using management tools to better plan the ordering and use of supplies in dining halls, for example. The university has also partnered with the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin nonprofit food redistribution program for more than 10 years.
But Second Harvest deals more with nonperishables, Luke says. What do you do with prepared foods, such as hot lasagna?
"We'd maybe put it out one more time," she says. "Otherwise we don’t serve it again." That's where Campus Kitchens will come in.
The students have been in talks with the Goodman Community Center and other potential partners to provide and transport meals. They've also been raising money, "so that we can make full meals," says Kokkinias. "Let's say we get salads or something. Well, we can't just serve people salad. We want to serve a balanced, nutritious meal."
It's more than that, though. "It's also about trying to hit that root cause of poverty and hunger by offering awareness events, workshops where people can get marketable skills, on-campus food pantries and many other things," she says.
Luke applauds the work so far, and notes that a lot of work remains. More and more students are joining the group, just through word of mouth.
"We've gotten tremendous support from the campus community," says Kokkinias. "Everyone has said, 'This should have been done a long time ago.'"