“Give us this day our daily bread.”
For Catholics, this phrase has been uttered countless times in the midst of prayer. And yet it rarely sparks a lengthy thought process about actual food. For many people, daily bread is a given, the next meal either waiting at home or picked up at a local restaurant or grocery store. But a vast number of others do worry about where their next meal will come from, both globally as well as here in the United States. The Campus Kitchens Project is one organization that is combating this problem on college campuses throughout the country.
Hunger and Catholic Social Teaching
Hunger and food security are issues that are closely tied to Catholic Social Teaching and its grounding principle: the dignity of every human life. As Catholic Relief Services’ campaign, Catholics Confront Global Poverty states, “The right to life for all persons, based on their identity as precious children of God, means that all people have basic rights to those things that are necessary for them to live and thrive, including the right to food.”
While the Church teaches that access to food is a fundamental right for all, statistics show that many families in the United States struggle with hunger. According to the Bread for the World Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report, the most recent data show that in 2012, nearly 50 million people in the United States resided in households that struggled to put adequate food on the table and approximately 50 percent of children living in the United States will live in a household that relies on government assistance for food by the time they are eighteen. It is evident that the right to food is being treated as a privilege in this country, and a privilege from which many are excluded.
Food justice is also intimately related to care for the environment, as it is a form of natural resource that we, as stewards of creation, are called to respect and share with all. Wasting food is just as egregious as wasting other natural resources, such as energy and water. That is why it is staggering to consider how much food is wasted every day while simultaneously one in six Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. An estimated 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted every year, which costs Americans more than $165 billion annually and accounts for 25 percent of national methane emissions.
The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) is helping build a connection between food that is wasted and people who do not have enough to eat. The CKP uses kitchen facilities and student volunteers on college and university campuses to accept, store, repackage, and deliver food to community partners that would normally be thrown away. Students participate in every part of the process, from collecting the food to making the meals, and even dining with those who they serve. CKP is currently at 45 campuses around the country, five of which are ACCU members: Gonzaga University, Marquette University, Saint Louis University, Saint Peter’s University, and Walsh University. Merrimack University will be the sixth ACCU member to start a Campus Kitchen with the launch of their project this fall.
On its website, the CKP defines its mission by three goals: “to strengthen bodies by using existing resources to meet hunger and nutritional needs of our community, to empower minds by providing leadership and service learning opportunities to students,… and to build communities by fostering a new generation of community-minded adults.” At Gonzaga University, this mission has proved to be successful. The campus chapter accepts food from several sources, including the Second Harvest Food Bank and on-campus dining halls, to provide nutritious meals for those who lack food security in the Spokane community. The website of the Gonzaga chapter tracks its effectiveness since beginning in 2005: The effort has recovered 98,362 pounds of food, served 92,297 meals, and logged a collective 15,294 hours.
The Campus Kitchens Project and Catholic Colleges and Universities
The goals of Campus Kitchens complement the social justice mission of Catholic colleges and universities. Emily Paulsen, Campus Kitchens’ representative at Gonzaga University, says that “the [university’s] notion of living a life for others fits right in with the work we do.” CKP’s model helps students live out the tenants of Catholic Social Teaching specific to hunger and food security in practical, transformative ways that benefit the students as much as those who receive a meal. Paulson describes how she has seen CKP affect the students who volunteer with the organization: “I have seen the students actually change their majors to degrees in social work because of their participation with the Campus Kitchen. We run a community dinner every Thursday night in downtown Spokane…The impact of students engaging with clients at the dinner is huge.”
Campus Kitchens’ congruence with the Catholic mission was an important factor to the Merrimack College students who brought the project to their campus, as well. Amy Byrne, one of the students instrumental in the process, describes how Campus Kitchens relates to her school’s Catholic identity: “The Catholic identity at Merrimack is focused on engaging our community through acts of compassion and education. Our Campus Kitchen is a natural extension of our values because it connects so many different partners in our community, and it addresses a number of social justice issues along the way.”
For the Merrimack College students involved in bringing CKP to their campus, the national office offered many resources that eased the process. One example is the $5,000 grant they received after winning an online contest offered by Campus Kitchens. These grants are offered several times throughout the year to help eliminate financial barriers that may arise in starting a school chapter. The Campus Kitchens Project also provides a Campus Kitchens Planner, an online tool that walks users step by step through the process and makes it easy to ask CKP staff for additional guidance. Byrne described how helpful the staff at CKP was, saying, “The head staff of the Campus Kitchens Project organization is so supportive and resourceful. They will do whatever they can to help you overcome obstacles along the way.”
The Campus Kitchens Project is one way of promoting the mission of Catholic higher education. It combats the issue of hunger through environmentally sustainable practices while inspiring leadership and solidarity in students. As Pope Francis said in his homily at the opening Mass of the Caritas Internationalis General Assembly in Rome on May 12, “We ought to set the table for all, and ask that there be a table for all.” The Campus Kitchens Project helps colleges and universities set the table for all in a sustainable, empowering way.
Catherine Coffey is a senior at Boston College and was a Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in summer 2015.
Want to start a Campus Kitchen Project chapter at your college or university? Not sure where to begin? Be sure to catch one of the remaining Fall 2015 information sessions in November and December! More information about how to start a Campus Kitchens chapter at your school, including grant opportunities, can be found on the website, campuskitchens.org.