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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Student leadership project distributes unused food to the hungry

Campus Kitchens

Minnesota State students will distribute unused food service food to Mankato's hungry.

By Robb Murray, Free Press Staff Writer [publushed in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 8/27/2005]

Campus Kitchens comes to MSU

Grant will help feed hungry

MANKATO — It took them a year to get it. And it might be the smallest grant they've ever received. But when the program gets up and running, they believe it could be one of the most important endeavors they've ever undertaken.

Minnesota State University's Student Leadership Development & Service Learning office this week finalized a grant deal that will allow them to bring the Campus Kitchens program to MSU.

The program takes unused food from residence hall kitchens and distributes it to a community's hungry. This is the first time the Campus Kitchens program, based in Washington D.C., is working with a university in a rural setting.

Kelly Meier, director of the student leadership office, said they hope to serve from 200-400 meals per week and possibly more.

"I think it will be a community-saving program," Meier said. "We know there are children in this community who go to bed hungry."

Meier and others in the student leadership office have been working for the past 12 months to bring Campus Kitchens to MSU. And now they've got a ton of work ahead of them: They hope to begin serving meals in early October.

The grant gives MSU $67,000 to use over a three-year period. It will fund some expenses and the work of a graduate assistant, but most of what the program needs will be donated.

Residence hall food that goes uneaten will be the main source of food. Each day there is food that is prepared but not served in MSU's residence hall kitchens. Any prepared food that didn't get put in the cafeteria line could potentially end up as part of the meals that are sent out each week.

Eventually, Meier said, MSU hopes to partner with community grocery stores and restaurants that can contribute either food for the cause or money to help keep the program going. They'll also need to get busy forming long-term partnerships — when the grant runs out, Campus Kitchens' financial connection to MSU is over, although they'll continue to partner with them on special projects and other things.

Sammie Eckerson, the graduate assistant who will help direct the program, said it will add much to the college experience for the students who choose to participate.

"I think it's going to be an eye-opening experience more than anything," Eckerson said.

The program is going to need about 150 student volunteers year-round to keep it running. Eckerson said that, eventually, finding volunteers won't be a problem.

"I think what's going to happen is we'll have maybe a little bit less the first few weeks," she said, "and then when the word gets out, we'll get a lot more."

Fraternities and sororities, she said, will jump at the chance to volunteer for Campus Kitchens once they learn about it. Greek organizations are well-known for their volunteer work. And sometimes, Eckerson said, after a few years of doing the same type of volunteering, they look for new opportunities. This one, she said, is perfect for the Greeks.

Beyond feeding Mankato's hungry, the program aims to enrich the students' lives and educations as well.

Meier said she's already worked out deals with the College of Business to have elements of the Campus Kitchens infused into the business school curriculum.

Business students, for example, may be doing public relations for the program or raising money, and at the same time getting college credit.

Other curriculum tie-ins are expected. Students pursuing urban studies, social work, family and consumer science and many other disciplines could conceivably work with Meier and Eckerson to find curriculum tie-ins with the Campus Kitchens program.

As for finding people to feed, Meier said they've been working with other organizations in the area that work with the homeless and hungry. She's confident there's enough need to do the 400 meals per week.

In fact, while Meier and others were researching the hunger situation and dealing with other groups in town such as the ECHO Food Shelf, the Salvation Army and Partners For Affordable Housing, she noticed a lack of coordination among agencies that were all trying to help Mankato's less fortunate.

So they're setting up what is for now being called the Hunger Task Force Committee, which will be made up of members of various outreach groups in town, and will be coordinated out of the MSU Campus Kitchens program.

Karen Borchert, co-director of the Campus Kitchens Project, said MSU's effort to be part of the program, while long in coming, will in the long run be successful.

She said they look for universities where those responsible for the project have done their homework and are ready to go forward and be successful.

"These guys have done that. They are there," Borchert said. "We don't have any pause at all. We're excited for them."

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