Read This to Find Out How YOU Can Help Make a Difference in the La Crosse Community: Interview with Judy Arney

A couple of weeks ago I got to sit down with UW-L senior and Chartwells Sustainability Intern, Judy Arney. You may have seen her in the U or in Whitney trying to get volunteers and help inform students about what her and some other students are doing every week to help STOP FOOD WASTE ON CAMPUS. Continue reading to find out what you can do to help and find out what else she is doing as the sustainability intern. 

Name: Judy Arney

Major: Bio

Minor: Environmental Studies

Year: Senior, graduating in spring

Sarah: What are you doing about the food waste?

Judy: Food that is not served at Whitney, what they do is they store it in a big fridge and then sometimes they pull it out when they are running low or something like that but often times what they end up doing with the food is throwing it out. So, I, right away when I first got my job as the Chartwells sustainability intern, I wanted to do something to combat that. We talked about doing composting and the possibility of that. But I really wanted something that would close the loop and do more than just composting. La Crosse has a way above average for the US for the amount of people here who are food insecure so there is definitely a need for that food. So we go in there, we have our own cooler where they put food that they haven’t served and what would otherwise be thrown out. We go package it and move it into containers, freeze it up, and then on Fridays my boyfriend and I, right now anyway hopefully more people will help, on Friday we take it to hunger task force and every time we bring food in, they are just ecstatic. I mean when we bring food in, it’s over a hundred pounds and its meals that you can just heat up that are own trays. They are really really valuable. It’s very valuable food because it’s very easy to heat up, like I said, and make. So often times when we drop off that food at Hunger Task Force they are already calling someone who they know is going to want the food and who can go pick it up that day.

They are an amazing organization. They work on campus as well with our food panty--they supply us with food. It’s really nice that we have the opportunity to give back to that org as well. Like I said we do use the food pantry from them. They do so much work as well with the Kane Street garden and they have many people volunteering, they are always doing something. Last time we dropped off food there there were high schoolers there organizing the food. They are awesome and very easy to plan and organize with.


Sarah: I don’t think people realize how much homelessness and need for food there is in La Crosse.

Judy: Yeah, like I said, La Crosse is above average when it comes to food insecurity which is pretty interesting to me because we do have so many wealth parts of this community, such as mayo and Gunderson and UW-L and Viterbo, but then again we have a significant amount of people who need meals and food. So that’s pretty much why I wanted to start this program.


Sarah: When did you realize this was a problem?

Judy: When I first started interning one of my first tasks was to figure out all the sustainability efforts that UW-L takes in and all of the sustainability efforts Chartwells takes in and try to find some middle ground and ways to start programs or campaigns and things like that. Right away, I wanted to do the food recovery network because I had also seen it all over the US. It’s been done by many other campuses, so why couldn't we do it here? We should we able to do this here--so lets do it! That’s pretty much how I found out about all of the food waste and everything behind the scenes.


Sarah: I know students can help out if they want to on Tuesdays and Thursdays…?

Judy: Yes, yes. We need students to help that’s the thing. I’m going to be graduating in year. I want this program to be long lasting and I want it to stay on campus. I would love it to be a permanent program. When it comes to volunteering everything just runs more smoothly and quicker if we had more hands helping and packaging and caring and things like that. This past Tuesday, we had about 5 people volunteering and it took about 20 minutes. I have been doing it by myself for the first few trial runs and it took about an hour. So it really helps to have people there working with us and like I said, the more hands the faster and easier it really goes. Also, I think it is a great opportunity for students at UW-L to be involved in the community.


Sarah: What time is that at again?

Judy: It’s at 4:00 pm on Tuesday and Thursday. I made a Facebook page as well—UW-L Food Recovery Network. The profile picture lists the dates, the location, so it’s very obvious.


Sarah: What are the next steps?

Judy: The next steps I would like to see would be potentially doing it here in the student union. Right now we do it in Whitney only, just because it’s significantly easier compared to the union. But I think we could accomplish it here with a little managing. It’s just a little different. I would also really like to start working on reusable containers rather than aluminum containers which is what we have now. That just takes applying for grants and things like that. But I do think that would be really valuable because once we have those reusable containers, we work with Hunger Task Force and communicate the use of those containers. It would just produce less waste that we are producing and throwing out. That’s my new goal.


Sarah: What problems have you ran into?

Judy: I would say, the space in Whitney to where we actually do the physical food recovery. When it came to volunteers Chartwells and I were really questioning whether people would actually be able to volunteer. It really can’t work without volunteers; I mean it did but it was a lot. So that was an issue. Finding out which organization we wanted to work with in the La Crosse community. We did consider Salvation Army and things like that, but we decided Hunger Task Force is more of a middle ground for a bunch of different organizations so we thought that might be a little bit better. So pretty much just logistics and figuring out the moving parts that would be involved and safety training. How do we train volunteers so they can be in the kitchen? Chartwells is reliable for all of the volunteers and everyone who walks in and out of the kitchen. Things like that and working around the policy to actually donate the food took a few hurdles.


Sarah: Are you allowed to donate food that’s already been touched?

Judy: No, because we want to be able to donate as much food as possible, but we want to be able to donate food that is not contaminated at all. We have to follow food codes. We can’t just donate anything, like scraps. It has to be good, healthy good that is safe and secure so we know people won’t get sick from it. That was another thing. How are we going to make sure that our volunteers can do that. We can freeze the food, and then deliver the food at the right time. It’s a lot of things we had to think about. It was pretty much a live and learn experience. Figuring out all of those moving parts out as we went along.


Sarah: I bet it feels pretty good to see something done now that it took so long.

Judy: Oh, definitely! Whenever you leave after volunteering and packaging up the food, I always feel very excited and happy just because seeing the amount of food and seeing the physical meals that can potentially come out of the food that we are packaging up. It is just really rewarding experience for me because it took a while to get to where we are so the fact that it can finally have an impact on the community is just awesome.


Sarah: Especially if the food was going to be thrown away and taking one hour out of your day is crazy.

Judy: The mission is feed people, not landfills. So if we can feed people with the food we are going try. Also we have to work with the chefs in Whitney to make sure they coordinate the food and put it in the appropriate places.


Sarah: Are they pretty cooperative?

Judy: Yeah they are super nice. They are always super excited when we come in and the know about the program now. So I think in the beginning it was a little tough to get them on board because it was a new program. It was just hard with so many things going on in Whitney. It is fairly chaotic in the kitchen, so adding this other part to the food service it just took a little bit getting used to. But now that we are in the full swing of things, it’s running well and really smoothly. We have the dietitian in Whitney, she also helps coordinate over there.


Sarah: Do you think Whitney and around campus, they do a lot for recycling and in the environment?

Judy: We are really trying to limit the amount of trash and recycling. Sometimes when it comes down to it, it is student choices that could be made a little bit better. For example, one of the things that I have to do for my sustainability internship now is work on a campaign to stop students from using to go containers when they don’t ned them because it has become an actual program for chart wells because they are throwing out so many containers. They are taking up way too much space in the trash because it’s just air in there once you finish a meal in there. I’m talking about the white containers. I’m working on digital signage and signs we can put up at the different restaurant spots to encourage students not to use to go containers if possible so we are really working on making the food service more sustainable but it definitely is a work in progress.


Sarah: I think it’s hard for a lot of students to really care because they are not see what kinds of problems it is causing by using the to-go containers.

Judy: Yeah so that’s why we started to doing the to-go campaign. I actually walking around for a couple of days and interviewed people and was like “you’re using a to-go container but you’re siting in the U, can I ask you why?” That kind of thing and a lot of people said it’s just easier. Reasons that I feel we can work on. Reasons that are not set in stone and we can help change those opinions. That’s what I try to do in my position.


Sarah: I think a lot of it might just be because some people are lazy and sometimes you just have to go that extra step to do something good.

Judy: Yes, it’s interesting because many students don’t even recycle so how do we reach those people? How do we focus on reducing the amount of waste? Another hard thing about the to-go containers is if something asks for it they are going to give one to the student. You are not going to turn down a costumer. You are not going to be like, “no are you sure?” Because they are a business, they want to treat their costumers as best as they can so that means giving them the things that they need when they ask for it. 


If you are interested in volunteering, email Judy here: [email protected]

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