The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 11, 2008

Campus Kitchen in need

MANKATO — The Campus Kitchen program feeds 328 hungry people each week. It cuts down on cafeteria waste, making it one of the greener endeavors on campus. And it makes Minnesota State University look good.

So why is it in danger of dying?

Campus Kitchen, which will hold its biggest fundraiser of the year next week, no longer operates with funds from the original grant that brought it here three years ago.

That $65,000 grant has been used up, and now the only way it will survive is if fundraising brings in the necessary $70,000 to keep it alive. The other option is to have the university fund it. But that — in days of belt-tightening and program reduction — doesn’t appear likely.

An MSU without the Campus Kitchen program is something its chief operator doesn’t want to confront.

“I haven’t thought about it because I don’t want to,” Campus Kitchen program coordinator Sammie Eckerson said. “I’m hoping the school will step in and say, ‘We’ll make up the difference, it’s a major part of the university.’”

Campus Kitchens works like this:

Student volunteers rescue excess food from campus dining service kitchens — food that has been prepared but not served — and box it up in individual meals. They then deliver it to places such as homeless shelters.

When it began, it started small: a handful of volunteers doing about 30 meals a week.

By now, however, 4,000 people have volunteered with the program, including students, faculty and even administrators. The average meal-boxing group numbers 30 volunteers.

“I’ve had the chance myself to volunteer from time to time and help out and found it a real satisfying experience,” MSU Provost and Academic Affairs Vice President Scott Olson said. “We really think it’s a great program that gives our students exposure to real-world problem-solving situations, but it also has a nice component of service outreach to the community.”

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