As a winner of one of three $5,000 grants from Cobank, Williams College will join James Madison University and Austin Peay State University as a site for a new Campus Kitchen! The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) is a D.C.-based community service organization that already partners with 53 high schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country. Through CKP, students create shared kitchen spaces that vary based on the needs of each community but share four central components: food recovery, meal preparation, meal delivery, and empowerment and education. The program helps students collaborate to address hunger and food insecurity. According to the CKP website, 28,697 student volunteers throughout the country recovered 1,306,163 pounds of food and prepared 349,376 meals during the 2015-16 school year.
Existing Williams student organizations, including WRAPS (Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus), The Garden: Williams Sustainable Growers, and Moo-Mami: Williams Cooking Club, worked with the Center for Learning in Action and the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives to submit a video to CKP that makes the case for a Campus Kitchen at Williams. Though each of these organizations already addresses food insecurity a part of their mission, Megan Maher ‘17, Williams’s Student Coordinator for the Campus Kitchens Project, explains that the program will help the groups to coordinate, collaborate and streamline their efforts. As Maher said in the video submission to CKP, “One of the most exciting aspects of the Campus Kitchens Project for us is just being part of something that’s bigger. We’re joining with people next door, we’re joining with people literally around the world who want to serve each other by alleviating hunger and that’s something we’re just so pumped to be a part of.” The video submission helped Williams’s proposal attract enough votes to receive the $5,000 grant.
The Campus Kitchen has already enabled Maher and other students to develop skills that could help them enter nonprofit work after graduation. CKP provides an opportunity for Williams to expand its commitment to supporting students who want to enter careers with social impact, she says. The national organization provides workshops in skills like fundraising and meal preparation, while an online leaders’ portal helps Kitchens throughout the country connect with each other, share their experiences, and even apply for further grants.
After receiving the grant, the Williams Campus Kitchen team has begun to more seriously plan for the project’s implementation on campus. The Kitchen hopes to launch by the end of Winter Study or the beginning of the Spring 2017 semester and student leaders are still working with advisors from the national CKP organization on some of the details. With coordination and funds from the grant, though, Maher says that they hope to expand beyond individual groups’ existing projects. For example, WRAPS already delivers boxed meals of extra food from Williams dining halls to Mohawk Forest, a low-income housing community in North Adams, but the Louison House, a homeless shelter in North Adams, has expressed a need for trays of food that it could serve to residents. The Kitchen could help WRAPS and Moo-Mami work together to address that need. It could also help the groups supplement these meals with more fresh fruits and veggies.
It’s important to work closely with community organizations to build meaningful relationships that break down barriers and effectively address the community’s needs, Maher explains. For example, the Berkshire Food Project (BFP) serves free hot lunches to the North Adams community on weekdays. Williams students initially helped found BFP, but in recent years, Williams student involvement has dwindled. Maher hopes that the new Kitchen could help organize Williams students to provide BFP with regular volunteer support.
Maher, Claudia Forrester ‘18, and Eleanor Lustig ‘18 spent Winter Study 2016 researching how a Campus Kitchen could be implemented at Williams. Tracy Finnegan, the Assistant Director for Regional and At-Risk Education at the Center for Learning in Action, had initially introduced them to CKP. CKP has another Williams connection, though: Michael Curtin ‘86 received a Bicentennial Medal and gave the Convocation address at Williams in 2015. Curtin is the Executive Director of the D.C. Central Kitchen, which sponsors CKP and provides the model for the Kitchens throughout the country. Maher, who met with Curtin when he came to campus, praises the D.C. Central Kitchen’s innovative model: it has a program that employs incarcerated people to prepare meals for their community, teaches them culinary skills, and helps them find culinary jobs when they leave prison.
Programs like the D.C. Central Kitchen are needed throughout the country, including the northern Berkshires: A 2006 phone survey conducted by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts suggested that 18% of the northern Berkshire community faces food insecurity, while 11.3% of the community faces hunger. There are serious hunger issues in this community, Maher says, and she feels a deeply personal calling to address this need. It will provide a much-needed food justice component to College’s year of Confronting Climate Change, she says, and help build a framework that will benefit the community for years to come.
Abby Rampone ’17 is a communications intern at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.