U.Va. Student Group Turns Leftovers into Meals for the Hungry

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Matt Kelly:

March 22, 2010 — University of Virginia students are stepping out into the community to feed the hungry.

Student volunteers have opened a local branch of Campus Kitchens, a national organization that feeds the indigent. Students take leftovers from the dining halls, reheat them, or use them as the foundation of new dishes. For the past several weeks, they have prepared and served the Salvation Army Sunday lunch.

"It's good food," said Kathleen Pollard, a third-year American Studies major and the volunteer recruitment coach for the group. "And it is sustainable because it cuts down on food waste."

The national organization, founded in 2001, has affiliates at about 23 schools across the country.

"We empower thousands of students each year to recycle food from their cafeterias, turn these donations into nourishing meals, and deliver those meals to those who need it most," the organization says in a statement on its Web site.

Pollard said the U.Va. group has about 75 volunteers and a nine-member core leadership team — all of whom are amateurs at cooking. The leadership team underwent rigorous food safety training and the volunteers have received safety instruction in handling kitchen implements. The students work closely with U.Va. Dining chefs, who volunteer their expertise.

The leftovers are in quantities too insignificant for U.Va. Dining to try to serve again. Before Campus Kitchens, most of the food would have been composted.

"Recently we had about 50 portions of fajita meat, and 10 portions of barbecued chicken meat," said executive chef Bryan Kelly, who works with the group. "So the first 50 people at the Salvation Army got fajita meat. Then the next 10 got chicken."

The students use the leftovers to create balanced meals. They have a small budget for additional ingredients and will make dishes such as mashed potatoes, pastas and salads to complete the meals.

"We like to keep it simple," Pollard said. "Last week we made pasta and mashed potatoes to go with the fajita meat. We hope to make more of our own dishes in the future."

The U.Va. Campus Kitchens chapter is sponsored by Madison House and receives some funding from the Seven Society and the national organization. Dining Services also makes donations of ingredients, such as onions, and kitchen facilities in Runk Dining Hall.

"We fully support this," said Brent Beringer, director of dining for the University. "It does not take any resources away from the students, and it helps strengthen bonds with the community."

Beringer said the food provided to Campus Kitchens has not been on the warming trays in serving lines, but items that are kept cooler and put on plates in the back of the kitchen only.

"Once the food is put out for the students and is held at a hot serving temperature, the leftovers have to be discarded," he said. "The food in the back of the kitchen is not held at serving temperature."

Food set aside for Campus Kitchens is "blast chilled," quickly freezing it, then turned over to Campus Kitchen once a week, Beringer said.

There is "rigorous paperwork" to track the food, its handling and condition, Pollard said.

The students prepare the food on Sunday and then deliver it ready to serve in insulated containers to keep it at the proper temperature. 

The students have served Sunday lunch at the Salvation Army for several weeks, feeding about 60 people at the facility at 207 Ridge St.

"It's wonderful for us," said Josh Kaufman-Horner, director of the soup kitchen and the center for transitional housing for the Salvation Army. "They are saving us a chunk of money on food. It is easier on our staff and it's something a little different for the residents."

The student group has been serving food only at the Salvation Army, but Pollard said the group is looking to expand to other community organizations.

"We want to help the community by delivering different and healthy meals to people," Pollard said.

— By Matt Kelly