Four students at University of Wisconsin have come together to combat hunger and food insecurity by establishing a chapter of a national non-profit organization called Campus Kitchens.
Cofounders Colin McReavy, Katherine Kokkinias, Shruti Rajan and Meaghan Sargent have molded their mission statement around the Wisconsin Idea – the policy that integrates university programs into real-world situations in the state.
11.6 percent of people in Dane County alone are food insecure, McReavy said. This means they have difficulty finding or affording the healthy and nutritious food they need to maintain a balanced diet.
In addition, many of these people are not eligible for government-run food assistance programs.
“It’s something that we realized is an issue, but there’s an opportunity within that issue. It’s something that we felt we could capitalize and Campus Kitchens gave us the opportunity to do that,” McReavy said.
The plan for Campus Kitchens in Madison is to take leftover food from the dining halls at the end of the night and prepare a meal with it. These meals will then be served to people in the community, students and others who are struggling with food security, McReavy said.
However, the cofounders want to do more than just take leftovers from dining halls and drop them off at another location, McReavy said.
“We like to take a holistic approach,” McReavy said. “We’re more than just a middle man.”
The cofounders want to address the root cause of hunger and stop the vicious cycle causing it. To do this, they would eventually like to provide cooking and nutrition classes, community garden projects and even a food pantry, McReavy said.
They also want to expand to other entities in the community, so that they’re not only collecting leftovers from campus dining halls, but entities like catering, the Union, and athletics, all of which McReavy said face the same issue of excess food at the end of the day. After that, they’d like to do the same thing with restaurants, businesses and farms in the area, McReavy said.
The UW chapter of Campus Kitchens has not served any meals yet, as the planning process began only last semester. However, the cofounders want to start out with success, even if that means starting small, Rajan said. They plan to start at the Goodman Community Center on the east side of Madison.
“It’s good because we’re starting out with a smaller number at the Goodman Center, and we’ll be able to give them full meals and test out how much food we need, how much we need to buy of our own and then how much of that is recovered as well,” Rajan said.
This past week, Associated Students of Madison’s Student Services Finance Committee approved a proposed budget for a food pantry for low-income students on campus.
These students have the power to do something really influential and speak up on behalf of other students in the UW System, a homeless student on campus who attended the SSFC meeting and chose to remain anonymous, said.
“UW is a [public institution], and that’s a big deal. When we do something, it does not go unnoticed,” the student said.
Students should not look at this from a monetary perspective, the student said. They should look at it and understand from a student’s perspective who is in that boat.
In addition to serving a weekly meal at the Goodman Center, the cofounders of Campus Kitchen would like to serve students on campus.
“There’s a huge demographic of students who struggle with affording meals. When you think about hunger you tend to think about what’s going on in the Madison community and around us, but many times what goes overlooked is students who are sitting next to you in class or walking down the street right next to you,” McReavy said.