Campus Kitchen sees increased community demand for meals

Campus Kitchen leadership and volunteers come together to determine ways to best continue serving the Rockbridge community

Annalisa Waddick

This has been a challenging year for Cam- pus Kitchen, a service organization which transforms leftover food into healthy meals for low-income families in Rockbridge County.

Limits on personnel in the kitchen, restrictions on interactions with families and an abundance of new safety policies have all shaken up traditional traditional operations.

But in this time of uncertainty and economic upheaval, Campus Kitchen staff and volunteers are working harder than ever to make sure that the needs of the community continue to be met.

Ryan Brink, Campus Kitchen coordinator, said in an email that demand for meals in the community has risen since students returned home in March.

“There certainly has been [an increase in demand], and that was extremely visible at the Rockbridge Area Relief Association food pantry,” Brink said. “We have seen increases in our Backpack and Mobile Food Pantry programs as well.”

But while the needs of community members have risen, the number of people able to help prepare and distribute the food has been limited to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

“In a typical year we would have about 60- 70 additional volunteers on our shifts each week,” Brink said. “In pandemic times that number is down to 20 each week.”

These 20 weekly volunteers are in addition to the 25 members of the Campus Kitchen Leadership Team who also work to make and distribute food.

Kush Attal, ‘21, is the president of the executive board for the Campus Kitchen leadership team. He described in an email the differences he’s seen in Campus Kitchen operations this year as opposed to last year.

This year, there has been less community engagement with clients due to social distancing and safety guidelines,” Attal said. “We cannot share meals and chat with them during lunchtime when we deliver meals.”

While this is less than ideal, Attal noted that it’s not all bad.

“There has also been a lot of support and positive feedback from the university, community, and Rockbridge County as a whole about the continued efforts of Campus Kitchen towards creating and sending meals across Rockbridge,” Attal said. “Clients always smile and are grateful to see us when we briefly drop by for deliveries, and students enjoy cooking on-site with other volunteers.”

Allie Stankewich, ‘23, another member of the Campus Kitchen leadership team, agreed. Like Attal, she also touched on the difficulties the coronavirus has created in regards to establishing relationships with members of the community.

“One downside is that a big part of Campus Kitchen’s mission of course is building relationships in the community,” she said. “[This] can’t happen as easily in person due to COVID.”

But the Leadership Team is constantly brainstorming new ways to continue community engagement.

“One alternative that we’ve come up with is a pen-pal letter writing system, with our clients at the Magnolia Center and at The Manor,” Stankewich said. “This will be a way to still try and maintain these relationships that we care so deeply about.”

Stankewich also explained the ongoing conversations the team has surrounding ways to best serve the community now in times of crisis as well as in years to come.

“As a member of the leadership team, we’re definitely talking about how we can serve this community in the most dignified way, for the respect and dignity of all people,” Stankewich said. “And [also] how our mission to address the immediate emergency needs of food insecurity can also begin extending beyond to the greater structural and systemic issues facing our community and our world with hunger and food security.”