Once a week, Anna Helena Denis helps turn an abundance of bagels—not three or four but dozens—into an abundance of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Denis, who goes by Lena, is a junior dual major in anthropology and art history at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. She is also the student coordinator for The Campus Kitchen at Johns Hopkins University, a volunteer organization that collects unused food from campus dining halls, neighboring restaurants, and area farms, turns it into full, healthful meals, then delivers those meals to social service partners in neighborhoods around Hopkins’ Homewood campus. (For more on Hopkins volunteerism, see the special edition of Alumni News and Notes, beginning on page 53.) The peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches go to the Franciscan Center of Charles Village.
The Campus Kitchens Project is the brainchild of Robert L. E. Egger, a Washington, D.C., social activist and founder of D.C. Central Kitchen, a community kitchen that since 1989 has trained unemployed men and women in food service skills by recycling unused food and, according to its own estimate, turning that food into 4,000 nutritious meals each day for hungry D.C. residents. In October 2001, D.C. Central Kitchen tried its food-recycling model on the campus of Saint Louis University, using student volunteers for staff. It worked, and since then 23 more colleges and universities and one high school (Gonzaga High in D.C.) have started their own kitchens.
Johns Hopkins was number 20. In the summer of 2008, Jerome Brown, A&S ’09, attended a social networking seminar and met Egger. Brown had become fascinated with the idea of social entrepreneurship, and in course work at the Bloomberg School of Public Health he had studied food justice issues and community food mapping, analyzing the availability and distribution of food in Charles Village. After talking to Egger about Campus Kitchens, Brown thought, “This would work at Hopkins.” He attended a “boot camp” to learn how the campus programs operate. Then along with Denis and about a half-dozen other undergraduates, he founded the Hopkins chapter in the spring of 2009. The group operates under the auspices of Hopkins’ Center for Social Concern, a student life office on the Homewood campus dedicated to community service; its current coordinator, Jessica Zha, A&S ’09, is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer performing a year of national service at Hopkins.
Brown says most Campus Kitchens chapters take about two years to become fully operational. At Hopkins, the students managed to create a functioning organization in about seven months, reaching out to collect excess produce and meat from campus dining halls, pastries from the Charles Village restaurant Donna’s, and greens and fruit left in local farmers’ fields after mechanized harvesters had done their work. The students took the raw materials and, working in the kitchen of the neighboring University Baptist Church, began turning out full meals for distribution by Baltimore organizations like the Franciscan Center, the Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington, and the B-SPIRIT-A2Y after-school program in the Park Heights neighborhood.
The Hopkins program says that during fall semester ’09 it recovered 1,285 pounds of food from restaurants and dining halls, gleaned 2,500 pounds of produce from farms, and prepared 687 meals in thrice-weekly kitchen shifts. The spring 2010 semester has gotten off to a bit of a rough start because of the massive February snowstorms that buried Baltimore and locked down the campus. But Denis says about 20 student volunteers are back and gearing up to produce more meals.
She says they have to be flexible because they never know from day to day what sort of leftover victuals will come in. One batch of croissants ended up in bread pudding. Brown, who now works on the staff of the U.S. under secretary of energy, recalls a two-day period last year when the students turned a sudden bounty of meat into about 100 pounds of meatballs. The day of service during university President Ron Daniels’ installation weekend produced a bounty of apples gathered by students at a local farm. Money from grants and fund-raising events are used to purchase staple items like pasta and canned goods.
“People don’t donate five-course meals,” Denis says. “They donate bread, or they donate collard greens. It can be tricky deciding what to do before the food goes bad to produce something that will be healthy. Sometimes that means something creative. Sometimes it just means soup poured over rice.”
Photo: Ariel Gold