by Peyton Robinson and Austin Gould
The Campus Kitchen at Baylor University (CKBU) is one of several student groups that aim to reduce food waste and hunger on both Baylor’s campus and in the local Waco community. Campus Kitchen also works in collaboration with the Baylor Community Garden.
We recently visited the Garden, located at the corner of 9th and James Street. We have passed this area many times, but we didn’t know until recently that such a place existed on Baylor’s campus. After pushing open the gate and entering the Garden, we found ourselves on a gravel path that leads to several raised flower beds currently blooming with pink wildflowers. There are also several picnic tables scattered throughout the Garden, with one table placed under a wooden awning with string lights, providing a space for rest and events, both day and night. Stacks of new cinderblocks hint at exciting changes to come.
Campus Kitchen has a mission to:
1) Strengthen bodies by using existing resources to meet hunger and nutritional needs in our community,
2) Empower minds by providing leadership and service-learning opportunities to students, and educational benefits to adults, seniors, children and families in need, and
3) Build communities by fostering a new generation of community-minded adults through resourceful and mutually beneficial partnerships among students, social service agencies, businesses and schools.
Campus Kitchen was founded on Baylor’s campus in October of 2008 as a part of the National Campus Kitchens Project This national program includes 63 schools across the nation, and Baylor was the first of two campuses to get involved. The National Campus Kitchen Project recognized the Baylor chapter as one of its strongest programs in the fall of 2015, and Baylor received an AmeriCorps grant in 2016 to continue operations during the summer months.
While the national program is no longer in operation, Baylor Campus Kitchen has continued to provide volunteer opportunities to assuage hunger and provide food for the Baylor and Waco communities. Members of Baylor Campus Kitchen are divided into three teams: Food Recovery and Delivery, the Garden, and the Kitchen. Students involved in Campus Kitchens volunteer with their respective teams for at least two hours a week and attend meetings approximately once a month, depending on what events they’re hosting.
Food Recovery and Delivery Team
The Food Delivery team recovers extra food at the end of the day from Baylor dining halls and Panera. This surplus food is taken to local charities and food banks so that it won’t be lost as unnecessary “food waste,” left to rot in a dumpster rather than helping those in need.
The Garden team works with Baylor’s graduate school to grow and gather fresh produce. When volunteers learn about the food production process from seed to harvest, knowledge and appreciation of where their food comes from increases—an important step in becoming a good steward of the earth and improving food resources. Furthermore, the skills students develop volunteering with the Garden can translate into growing one’s own food and keeping one’s own garden. All of the food raised and harvested in the Garden is donated to local food banks, such as Shepherd’s Heart, and is also used for food preparation by the Kitchen team.
Members of the Kitchen team cook meals in the Penland Dining Hall for local charities and community events. Baylor Campus Kitchens also conducts food drives, such as Turkeypalooza around Thanksgiving, that benefit local food banks such as Caritas and Shepherd’s Heart.
We spoke with Libby Feray, who served with the Recovery team as a first year and sophomore student, and then as President of Campus Kitchens for her junior and senior years at Baylor. Feray has a passion for providing produce and meals for those who struggle with food insecurity, especially on Baylor’s campus. Campus Kitchens works to reduce the stigma surrounding food insecurity and to take advantage of the food production facilities on and surrounding Baylor’s campus.
Ms. Feray joined Campus Kitchen because she wished to serve the community in a meaningful capacity. At first, her ideas about how best to do this were vague. Like most freshmen, she was looking to find her niche on campus. After considering whether to join Baylor’s marching band, she found Campus Kitchens and was attracted to the idea of providing food for others in emulation of God’s kindness. Serving both God and others in this tangible way was the primary reason she dedicated so much time toward Campus Kitchens during her time at Baylor.
The impacts against food waste and hunger that Feray remembers most are those made by the Recovery team since this team facilitates a service that is unique: the group takes leftover food from the giant kitchens on Baylor’s campus and brings that food to people who need it. This service was especially important to Feray because she felt overwhelmed by food waste on Baylor’s campus. Dining halls on campus produce hundreds of pounds of food every day, and sometimes not all of that food is consumed or can be preserved to be eaten later. The Recovery team also recovers food from Panera. Feray said that when her team picked up unsold food from Panera, they would walk out of the building holding multiple large trash bags full of fresh, good bread that otherwise would have been thrown away. On those nights, Feray remembers feeling like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. She could imagine the bags of bread being full of presents as she brought them, along with the other Recovery team volunteers, to the Salvation Army.
Feray also told us that with the national Campus Kitchens organization closing, this has actually opened up a window for Campus Kitchens to become more flexible in meeting the needs of the Baylor and Waco community more completely. Feray thinks that the name “Campus Kitchen” might be changed to more accurately reflect its important food conservation work, since this student group has the capacity to deeply reduce food insecurity as well as educate Baylor students on how to responsibly manage their food.
Furthermore, there is a need on Baylor’s Campus for more access to free food. In the past, Campus Kitchens has operated in collaboration with The Store to provide healthy, desirable, and free food for students who are in need. Baylor is a private university with a reputation for wealth, and this reputation can often mask food insecurity on campus. So while the Salvation Army is an organization with an established reputation for providing food to those in need—and the food Campus Kitchens provides to them is well placed—CKBU has both the potential and the experience to help fight hunger and limited access to fresh food on Baylor’s campus as well: work and knowledge that may, at times, go unseen.
When we visited the Baylor Community Garden, part of CKBU’s facilities, the enormous potential for Campus Kitchens to be both an educational and an impactful organization was evident. Food is a large part of our everyday life. It can sustain, build, delight, and grow relationships. But because of the industrialized nature of our American food production system, a lot of calories fall between the cracks. An estimated 108 billion pounds of food is wasted in America each year. Campus Kitchens calls attention to this waste, works to solve some of it, and educates the campus community on how to avoid participating in food waste. For Libby Feray, even though she’s now graduating from Baylor University, her involvement with the organization is still deeply impactful. In the future, she hopes to be a part of similar food-conservation organizations, whether that means finding another one or starting one of her own.
We also spoke with senior Shaye Barry, the current Vice President of Administration for Baylor Campus Kitchen, to get her perspective as a leader of the organization, to learn how she became involved with CKBU, and to hear her hopes for the group’s future. When asked about what Campus Kitchen does best for the Baylor and Waco communities, she reflected on how she appreciated the way CKBU “reaches out of the Baylor bubble.” Barry serves as one of three Vice Presidents for Campus Kitchen, alongside a Vice President of Programs and Vice President of Communication. The group’s leadership also consists of managers for Garden, Kitchen, and Recovery and Delivery from both the dining halls and from Panera. Shaye is also a Nutrition major, and while many students involved in CKBU share an interest in this discipline, the group also includes Pre-Med, Business, and other majors. Shaye joined the organization in the fall of 2018 after learning about Campus Kitchen at Baylor’s Late Night event. She started volunteering in Panera recovery, taking leftover bread and pastries to the fridges in Penland kitchen before the food was transported to a local food bank. Next, she delivered food to Caritas and said it was a gratifying experience to see it “go to use.” Her favorite memory of Campus Kitchens was last year’s Turkeypalooza food drive during Thanksgiving. Barry says that it was satisfying to see all of the group’s planning be carried out as cans of food were taken out of cars and put into shopping carts. About 200 pounds of food were donated to Shepherd’s Heart. That’s a lot of food!
In the future, Shaye hopes more volunteers will join Campus Kitchen, which would allow the group to expand the number of available managers and volunteer shifts. Much of the volunteering for Campus Kitchens happens in individual shifts, so she would also love to see more group volunteering events, which would allow CKBU members to bond and get to know each other even better. Shaye thinks that partnering with other organizations and advertising events such as the Garden-to-Table family dinner event will increase CKBU’s visibility and attract more volunteers, especially environmental and sustainability efforts are on the rise across the U.S.
The group currently consists of about 40 members, but as seniors graduate and the pandemic eases, they’re looking for more students to join. Anyone can join by filling out a volunteering release form as well as going through a short training to learn proper food safety rules and guidelines. Volunteer hours are manageable and flexible with students’ schedules, and involvement in Campus Kitchen is an excellent opportunity to develop leadership skills. Volunteering with Campus Kitchen allows students to grow in their personal development, while directly impacting food insecurity within the Baylor and Waco communities.