Campus Kitchen Fights Senior Hunger and Food Waste in Athens

While one in seven seniors go hungry in the United States, according to a Meals on Wheels report, nearly half the food produced in America is wasted, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council study.

The irony of this isn’t lost on an Athens nonprofit, Campus Kitchen, aiming to solve both– and it now has the recognition of its national namesake.

So far, the organization has targeted a population in need within the community, affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen organization and seen tangible results from its efforts.

“Campus Kitchen has grown a lot and our expansion is really an ongoing process,” Nathalie Celestin, an AmeriCorps VISTA working with Campus Kitchen, said.

Campus Kitchen began at the University of Georgia in the spring of 2011 as a campus organization, but faculty sponsor Cecelia Herles connected the club to her classroom as an initial means of institutional support.

“From the beginning we have been a hybrid of a service-learning course effort and a student organization,” Sarah Jackson, an intern with the Office of Service Learning at the University and volunteer since 2010, said. “It has worked out for the best. Having a student organization and Leadership Team provides the structure and consistency we need to run this level of efforts, but they really wouldn’t be plausible without the support of students from different courses.”

Students completed community assessments in one of Herles’ class to determine the need a feasibility of an Athens Campus Kitchen.

“Campus Kitchen at UGA focuses on seniors in Athens because the rate of food insecurity for seniors is much higher than for other groups,” Talie Watzman, a junior social work major at the University, said. “We wanted to address that food insecurity directly in our operations.”

One of five Athens-Clarke County residents is food insecure, many of whom are elderly.

 “We found that because the senior population is often hidden from society, people tend to forget about them,” Celestin said. “If you think about it, there are so many programs and aid out there geared towards children and young adults because that’s who we see all the time and that’s great but what about the senior population?”

Volunteers pick up food from places it would be otherwise wasted– restaurants, community gardens and Greek housing– and then repurposing the food into meals at a central cooking space. Shifts then take these meals to seniors facing food insecurity.

“The Athens Community Council on Aging already had several programs in place that were targeted at seniors, Grandparents Raising Children and Meals on Wheels are the two we work with, so it was easy for us to get connected with the senior community that way,” Watzman said.

Campus Kitchen benefactors are funneled through these programs, meaning the group can focus primarily on project follow-through and organizational growth.

One major area of growth is the Athens Campus Kitchen’s recent affiliation with the national Campus Kitchen.

“Being affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen was a huge deal for us. It was something that Sarah Jackson and other members of the leadership team had been working for for the better part of 2 years,” said Watzman. “The national organization makes us ‘official’ in a way that we weren’t before.”

And despite a history of service and community connection, that affiliation did not come easily.

“It required a lot of time and a lot of paperwork. We had to submit records of our operations, stuff like the amount of meals we served each month and how many pounds of food we collect weekly,” said Watzman. “A representative of the national organization visited Athens for a few days to check us out.”

Once a school is offered affiliation, the group must pay a $1,200 annual affiliation fee, which covers everything ranging from program support (access to national program managers, on-site training, program materials) to financial resources (in-house grant opportunities and internships) to marketing support (use of national brand and logo, website services, publicity support). In total, Campus Kitchens estimates the value of an affiliation with them to exceed $8,000.

Campus Kitchen volunteers say the training and national management support has been invaluable, and funding opportunities have played out this month. Between April 5th and April 12th, Campus Kitchens across the country are competing against each other to crowdsource the most money in the “Raise the Dough Challenge,” an effort supported by national branding and online funding platforms. The national Campus Kitchen will also give the school that raises the most money $1,000 and the school with the most donors will receive $750 towards their efforts.

Support for Campus Kitchen groups is expensive partially because the projects are so intense, but also because each group is distinct and poses different challenges and needs. The Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia is no different.

We’re the only Campus Kitchen that focuses on senior hunger,” Watzman said.

Georgia is eighth in the nation for hunger among older adults, and collectively the 166 Campus Kitchen volunteers have put in 680.2 hours of work this semester, according to their own calculations. Many keep coming back because they see tangible effects from their work.

“We were able to remove 32 clients from our waiting list and provide them with two prepared meals, produce from the UGArden and commodity goods to last them the month,” Celestin said. “Thirty-two might not seem like a huge number, but it was a big accomplishment for us and we hope to keep that going.”

Even before those seniors were added to the meal list, in 2012 that totaled 5,745 meals that Campus Kitchen prepared and delivered to community members in need, a result of collecting 27,623 pounds of surplus food, again, according to their own calculations. Those involved also benefit from the work, which Watzman calls “the most rewarding volunteer experience” she’s ever had.

“So many student groups on campus are focused primarily on fundraising and while that is incredibly important, I really wanted to do hands on work with members of the Athens community,” Watzman said.


UGA grads “have to grind” in post-graduate intern world

Recent University of Georgia graduate, Dorian Ezzard, wakes up at 6 a.m. in New York City to hit the gym, shower, and get dressed before starting the day at her sports endorsements internship. Across the country, UGA graduate, Blake Mitchell, arrives to his Los Angeles film production office around 9 a.m.

These two college graduates share more than their similar work schedules. They have had four to five internships, they work 40-45 hours per week, they live in big cities full of diverse culture, they go to bed around 10:30-11, and they represent the slim success rate of the ambitious and sleep-deprived intern nation.

Ross Perlin, author of “Intern Nation,” says the Millennials comprise an over-worked and exploited generation that competes for internships that do not benefit careers. More young adults ages 25 to 34 move back to their parents’ households than into their own city apartment. About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 in 2011 were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years, according to a 2012 Atlantic article.

Mitchell and Ezzard would be the first to admit the big city life is exhausting, but even after hours of phone calls and hundreds of e-mails, they still stay in their corporate hubs.

“Even when things are going well, you never feel completely comfortable,” says Ezzard. “Every day is a test but when you want it bad enough, none of that matters.”

Ezzard moved to New York without knowing anyone except who she wanted to become. Ezzard works as an intern for CAA Sports. To reach her dream job of becoming a leading executive in event coordination with a NFL or NBA team she spends 45 hours a week at the office from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. A typical day for Ezzard means always being prepared for the unexpected. She could be researching a company for the Property Sales group, or selecting images of professional athletes to be printed on lunchboxes. Before the day is over, it is a guarantee Ezzard will be pulled into several different directions before the day is over. When the day ends at 6:30 p.m. she takes the subway back home and usually cooks dinner or watches one of her weekly shows until bed.

“If you want to move to New York City,” says Ezzard, “know that you have to grind.”

Ezzard isn’t the only one among her friends to accept an internship after graduation. Some of her friends have done the same to “get their foot in the door at a big company.”

Ezzard was paid for three of her five internships. None of Mitchell’s internships were paid, including time at MGM studios and Double Feature Films. The communications field is so competitive, thinks Mitchell, companies get away with offering unpaid internships. Mitchell knows someone who fabricated a letter of school credit to land an internship working on a T.V. set, free of charge. To balance the toll of taking an unpaid internship, she works part-time at the Disney store to pay her bills, while interning without compensation.

Mitchell’s previous internship resulted in his current position as assistant to the executive vice president of production at Participant Media. He works in the Hollywood culture, but not without his own account of an outrageous intern request. At one of the companies he interned at previous to his current job, there was a producer who dinged her car and wanted it appraised and sent Mitchell to get the quotes.

“One day I spent the entire day, driving her SUV around L.A., when I was 19,” says Mitchell, “I was so nervous, thinking I’m going to wreck this car again. I went all over the place to get quotes. It was the worst situation. They would have been sued if anyone had found out.”

Mitchell enjoys the L.A. lifestyle, albeit fast-paced, that makes a demanding job worthwhile. Besides adjusting time zones, Mitchell’s downsize from a S.U.V to a Prius is one of the transitions he’s made since moving to L.A from Athens, Ga.  He commutes in his Prius to get to work around 9 a.m. His typical day is a “flurry” of arranging meetings, phone calls to executives and producers, and travel plans for his boss. Mitchell is constantly on his e-mail. He even brings lunch to work to eat at his desk to keep working without pausing. Mitchell’s schedule is full, but he owes his job to his internship.

“An internship is a great extended interview to prove that you have what it takes to be hired later on,” says Mitchell. “Most of my friends who are getting jobs out here, it’s because they interned at the place before hand.”

Mitchell advises to be flexible and patient to undergrads peering at the end of the tunnel.

“Put in the hard work, make the connections,” says Mitchell. “Be prepared for hard work and maybe not immediate pay-off.”

Cristina DuQue, a UGA student graduating this May has found a compromise between Mitchell and Ezzard. She is not in an internship or job, but a fellowship. DuQue works at 350.org, a non-profit. She hopes the pay-off of this non-profit fellowship will turn into a career. In the meantime, she works 15 hours a week, with compensation.

“In the non-profit world it is a little bit different, they hold progressive ideals, and one of those is worker’s rights,” says DuQue. “The concept of unpaid internships is kind of looked down upon.”

DuQue has worked in other internship positions and has dedicated thousands of volunteer hours. She believes she focused more time on her career development than her academics. For her, this decision led to paid internships, paid travel expenses to cities like San Francisco, Austin, Portland and Washington D.C., and compensation. She has three to four friends across the country who will probably take a similar route after graduation and enter a fellowship.

DuQue is following the grind of her UGA predecessors Mitchell and Ezzard. Even before entering the post-graduate world, her advice aligns with Mitchell’s.

“It’s all about the networking”, says DuQue, “Even if you do it (internship) just for a month or two after graduation, you’ll meet different people and soon a job will open and they may suggest you apply.”

Although the stress level is high and pay-off seems non-existent, risks and hard work from all three of these cases from UGA reveal what doors an internship can open.

“Go after what you want and don’t be afraid to move to a completely new city not knowing a soul,” said Ezzard, “I did it, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world.”