W&L’s Campus Kitchen celebrates 10 years of service to community

Original program founder returns to campus to mark CKWL’s anniversary

Kylee Sapp

Students volunteer at W&L’s Campus Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Campus Kitchen.
Students volunteer at W&L’s Campus Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Campus Kitchen.

What started as nothing more than an idea from a student who was unwilling to give up has grown into an organization that has served more than 263,000 meals to local families in need.

On Thursday, the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee (CKWL) marked its 10th anniversary with a celebration in Elrod Commons that featured refreshments, remarks and a short video about the organization. Founder Ingrid Easton Wilson, ‘06, returned to campus to mark the event.

Wilson was inspired by her summer internship at N Street Village, a nonprofit that serves homeless women in Washington, D.C., and community kitchen expert Robert Egger’s book on nonprofit organizations, Begging for Change. She was the first student to ever bring Campus Kitchen to a university – the eight other Campus Kitchens that existed nationwide in 2006 had all been founded by administrators.

Professor Harlan Beckley, founder of the Shepherd Poverty Program and acting president of the university during Wilson’s time as a student, spoke about the CKWL founder.

Beckley said it wasn’t easy for Wilson to get the project off the ground. He was unable to help due to a conflict of interest, so he sent her to the provost at the time, Tom Williams.

“He [Williams] did it all with Ingrid,” Beckley said.

“And he said ‘She came in and told me what she wanted to do, and I said uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, you gotta do this, this, this and this,’ and Ingrid did all of it. And not more than a year later there was a campus kitchen.”

That spring, the administration finally agreed to give it a try, and it’s been going ever since.

The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee runs several aid programs. The Backpack Program began in 2009 and gives children who qualify for free or reduced lunch food to take home over the weekend in place of their school lunch. Now, it serves almost 700 students per week.

The Mobile Food Pantry delivers nonperishable food items once a month to Buena Vista, Goshen and Natural Bridge. Through this program, over 43,000 pounds of food have been distributed to about 230 households.

“One of our goals is to give out healthy food. Generally I try to give as much produce as possible,” Stephanie RiCharde, CKWL’s AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer last year, said in the video marking the anniversary.

CKWL Director Jenny Davidson, ’08, said Campus Kitchen’s success is largely due to its volunteer army, which over the last decade has logged almost 40,000 volunteer hours.

Jonah Mackay, ’17, said once he started volunteering in 2013 , he couldn’t stop. Now, it’s the first thing he tells people when they ask what he does outside of class.

He said students “return time and time again because they see the value of the work that Campus Kitchen accomplishes as well as the environment it creates.”

“It was a way to break out of the bubble of campus life and meaningfully engage with the incredible diverse community of Lexington and BV,” Mackay said.

Hermione Wang, ’18, started volunteering at Campus Kitchen when she was a first-year. Now she’s on the leadership team and coordinates food pick-ups from Walmart, as well as cooking shifts, delivery and bingo games at The Manor, an area assisted living facility.

She said she likes getting to interact with the people Campus Kitchen serves.

“Going to The Manor to play Bingo with the residents there is always fun,” she said. “They are always excited to see us and play very competitive Bingo.”

Wang said the most rewarding part is knowing that she’s helping both the community and the environment. “Food security and reducing food waste is an important issue for me and Campus Kitchens does really well in addressing both,” she said. “Also, being involved in Campus Kitchens is a great way to connect with the Lexington community.”