Campus Kitchens at Augustana College: Raising Awareness of Food Insecurity

Food waste is something that Augustana’s campus community may not realize happens all the time on campus. If you watch the conveyer belt in the Gerber Center Dining Hall, you’ll notice that there is plenty of food that is left on the plates to be thrown away. Campus Kitchens helps save left over food from being thrown out.

I talked to the Co-Founders of Augustana’s Campus Kitchens, Mary Therese Thomas and Ninna Mendoza. They started the organization after seeing an entire bowl of strawberries placed on the conveyer belt to be thrown away. Strawberries are a delicacy on Fresh Fruit Fridays, so to see someone throw away a whole bowl was eye opening. They had discussed food waste and sought out solutions. Campus Kitchens was their solution. They made and shared a video that would be voted on to win a $5,000 grant to start up a Campus Kitchens at Augustana, which they won. Augustana was the smallest school competing.

There are about sixty chapters around the nation, and Augustana’s is a part of a larger, national organization whose mission is to end world hunger. Augustana’s chapter focuses mainly on doing so on campus through raising awareness of food insecurity, which is when a person may not be able to afford food, so Campus Kitchens provides them with a free meal. Mark Salisbury, the head of Institutional Research at Augustana, estimated that about 5-10 percent of the Augustana community is food unsecure. By hosting monthly free meals, Mary Therese and Ninna plan on educating students and faculty on how to reduce food insecurity. The meals are open to everyone on campus and absolutely free, and students can get more than one meal and even take one to go. There is no catch!

The process is long, but worth it. Mary Therese and Ninna work with Chef Corey in the Gerber Center to save over sixty pounds of food a week. This is unused food that is in good condition and would otherwise be thrown away. They also work with Hyvee to save food that would normally be taken off display and replaced with newer food. There are three steps to preparing and serving the meal: plan, cook, and serve. They first need to do inventory to see what food they have and plan what meals they can create from the ingredients. On the night of the event, volunteers work in the kitchen to cook the food and create the meal. They are supervised by a ServSafe Certified member of the Augustana Campus Kitchens leadership team to cook the food, and complete the meal in an hour and a half. The food is served by volunteers in the Brew. So far, Campus Kitchens has done this two times, serving about 200 meals and saving about 160 pounds of food!

Mary Therese and Ninna work with other members of their exec board to create these meals and they have big plans for the future. They hope that next year they will be able to open a free campus pantry in an office in Swanson. These meals would be packaged from the food left over from the meals served to students. They also hope to accept canned goods to include in this pantry.

The next meal will be on February 7th at 7 p.m. in the Brew. Keep a look out for emails about how to get involved through volunteering. It’s an easy way to help serve your community and it’s on campus! There will also be a way for faculty, staff, and the administration to get involved through training sessions to raise awareness for what food insecurity is and how to identify it. Look for more information about that week two of spring term.


You can follow and like Augustana’s Campus Kitchens page on Facebook:

Here is the Campus Kitchens’ webpage: