Since September 2015, the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech and VT Engage have enlisted hundreds of volunteers in more than 2,500 hours of student-led service to recover 14,500 pounds of surplus food from four university dining facilities. The food is delivered to local nonprofit partners, increasing their capacity to address food needs in the New River Valley.
This fall, the Campus Kitchen begins its second year of operation with an opportunity to expand its assistance to local hunger-relief agencies and increase its impact on student learning, thanks to a generous donation from the Smithfield Foundation.
“Smithfield Foods’ and Smithfield Foundation’s long relationship with Virginia Tech has many facets, including support of research in the areas of sustainable food production and global food needs,” said Dennis Treacy, who is president of the Smithfield Foundation, a member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, and an alumnus of the university's forestry and wildlife program. “By investing in the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech, we are giving students the opportunity to learn about the issues first-hand and to make a huge impact in their local community.”
The Campus Kitchen is one of several VT Engage programs focused on creating meaningful learning opportunities that also meet community-identified needs. Students working with VT Engage take ownership and leadership over programs, with guidance from faculty and staff advisors.
“Our intent is for the Campus Kitchen to build consistent, long-term relationships with our community, and this gift will help us do that,” said Perry Martin, senior associate director for community learning at VT Engage and faculty advisor for the Campus Kitchen. “With this gift, we can do the daily work, from meeting transportation needs to supporting our student leadership team’s professional development."
By participating in the program, students are able to see a variety of approaches to addressing the complex issue of food insecurity in the region by participating in the program and interacting with nonprofit partners, as well as the individuals they serve.
“The nutritious dishes delivered to our kitchen by Virginia Tech students are a very necessary component in our meal preparation," said Donna Fern, director of Radford-Fairlawn Daily Bread, a Campus Kitchen partner. “Without the funding to purchase food, we rely on the delivery of diverted food to prepare approximately 100 meals each weekday. We are grateful for this partnership, and are looking forward to another year of collaboration to provide hunger relief.”
The program has brought students, faculty, and staff from across campus together to talk about sustainable food practices. Student volunteers coordinate their operations with Dining Services, and faculty members can link course content to the program. The Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise has connected the nutrition expertise of its faculty and students to the Campus Kitchen and has allowed students to use its Wallace Hall kitchen space to add meal preparation to the ongoing food diversion efforts.
“From a learning perspective, the issue of food insecurity is ideal for interdisciplinary work. It opens a conversation on the variety of reasons why hunger exists and how it might be addressed,” said Lester Schonberger, of Alexandria, Virginia, a master’s degree student in food science and technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who is a graduate assistant for the Campus Kitchen.
“Experiential learning is a vital part of the Virginia Tech experience,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo. “The Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech is the kind of learning experience that builds skills and knowledge, collaboration across disciplines and backgrounds, and the capacity to work together to reach common goals. Add to this Virginia Tech’s commitment to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and you have students who are ready to share their talents through service to humanity in a rapidly changing global society.”
If you are interested in supporting or participating in the Campus Kitchen or other service-learning opportunities at Virginia Tech, please contact VT Engage at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-231-6947.
Written by Lindsey Gleason and Sandy Broughton.