The AARP Foundation recently gave $625,000 in grants to a national nonprofit called The Campus Kitchens Project, which allowed the organization’s chapter at Lee University to receive a $3,000 grant to bolster its efforts to help the people of Cleveland.
Students who work with the Campus Kitchen gather food that might otherwise go to waste, cook it and serve it to those in need as members of a campus club under the supervision of Lee’s service learning office, the Leonard Center.
William Lamb, director of the Leonard Center, said the club has grown over the years, and the grant money has allowed the club to put more focus on serving during the summer months.
There was a time when the club would stop serving meals when students went on break for the summer, but that did not change the fact people who were having trouble putting
food on their tables still got hungry. Students attending summer courses are now volunteering to serve three hot meals a week, as well as cold box lunches in connection with another Lee club called Crossover.
Two days a week, Lee students and staff members arrive at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter at 5:30 a.m. to make and serve hot breakfasts that include items like eggs and bacon or sausage.
Lamb said some staff members realized the need to help those staying at the shelter because no breakfast had been served before people had to leave for the day on a consistent basis.
“One of our goals is to identify deficiencies in the community,” Lamb said. “We saw a need.”
Staff members started volunteering, and Campus Kitchen students joined them, which he jokingly said was “miraculous,” because few college students are known for wanting to get out of bed before 5:30 in the morning.
This summer, students have also been cooking meals off site and serving an evening meal in Johnston Park downtown. A typical meal includes hot items like pork loin and green beans.
Tyler Shores, the Leonard Center special projects assistant who oversees the club’s daily operations, said they chose to serve in that area because it is convenient for many of the same people who need to utilize the emergency shelter.
Students cook the meals at the shelter and in a local church’s kitchen after collecting donated food from grocery stores that is close to but has not reached its expiration date and from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.
Campus Kitchen students also maintain a garden on property owned by a local church that allows them to grow vegetables and the like to include in the meals they cook, which students started doing last year.
The $3,000 AARP “sub grant” the local Campus Kitchens Project chapter received from the national organization has allowed it to help with everything from maintaining the garden to appointing a student named Joshua Murphy to be the AARP grant fellow.
Murphy and Jordan Triplett are the two student coordinators responsible for helping oversee the club’s efforts during the summer and looking for ways to better the program once it has more student volunteers in the fall.
While a lot of logistical details go into making sure three meals a week get served by volunteers who work and/or attend college full time, he said what the Campus Kitchen does is important because of the impact he has seen it make.
“My eyes have really been opened to what community is. It’s not essentially about the food,” Murphy said. “It’s about the people.”
Lamb said one of the goals of the service learning projects his office oversees is to help students see the need to help others and form relationships with people outside the Lee community.
He also stressed Lee University is just one organization working to help the hungry in Cleveland. He cited others like The Family Kitchen and the New Life Community Kitchen as examples. Lee also partners with organizations like the United Way of Bradley County and the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.
“Relationships are the key ingredient for success in what we do,” Lamb said.
AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson said her organization chose to give a grant to The Campus Kitchens Project because it helps address the plight of older individuals struggling to support themselves and promotes good intergenerational relationships.
For more information on The Campus Kitchens Project, visit www.campuskitchens.org. For more information about the local chapter, call 423-303-5072 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My eyes have really been opened to what community is. It’s not essentially about the food. It’s about the people.” — Joshua Murphy