Newswise — On a rainy Monday morning in March, staff at the University of Georgia State Botanical Garden of Georgia are in the children’s garden harvesting bushels of kale, collards, parsley and beets they no longer need for educational programs this spring. They are vigilant in maintaining a safe distance from one another, even outside in the rain.
A few hours later, employees from the UGA Office of Service-Learning deliver the produce and food donated by Trader Joe’s and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia to the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, where kitchen employees prepare meals. The meals are stored in vegetable coolers at UGArden, a student run farm on South Milledge Avenue that supplies produce to Campus Kitchen year-round.
The next day, the UGA employees and volunteers deliver the prepared meals and bags of groceries to 53 food-insecure families in the Athens area, placing the packaged food on doorsteps, ringing the bell, and standing six feet back while residents answer the door. In all, they will deliver enough for 170 meals.
During a typical week, hundreds of students volunteer with the Campus Kitchen organization, which provides meals to older Athens residents, most of them grandparents raising grandchildren. With students no longer on campus, their food security was threatened.
“All of our clients experience food insecurity on a regular basis and that could be heightened during this time,” said Andie Bisceglia, who coordinates Campus Kitchen within the Office of Service-Learning. “Some of them are also mobility limited and really rely on this food.”
Fewer than 10 UGA employees now run the program, following protocols for food safety and social distancing. They can’t handoff tools when harvesting the fresh vegetables, for example. No more than 10 people at a time can be in the kitchen preparing meals, following restrictions set by Gov. Brian Kemp. They had to change the location where they prepare the food when the original location, Wesley Woods Senior Living Center, was closed to outsiders to protect residents there.
While the Georgia Center is temporarily closed because of COVID-19, its employees enthusiastically offered their assistance and the center’s kitchen.
“I think we all have a part in this and I’m just happy that we could help,” said Darrell Goodman, food and beverage director for the Georgia Center, who also is on the board of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. “I know how many people this is helping right now, and seeing the impact directly is very satisfying. It makes me feel proud of where I work.”
Produce from the children’s garden likely would have gone to waste since programming has been temporarily halted.
“We already had a ton of produce and we met as a team to decide who we wanted to give it to—Campus Kitchen made sense,” said Cora Keber, UGA State Botanical Garden education director. “Being able to contribute to the community is just a really powerful way to use this space.”
Beyond being able to continue the program through the semester, Campus Kitchen now has a plan to carry through the summer.
The community can rely on UGA to help serve the community, according to Eve Anthony, CEO of the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA). Campus Kitchen works with ACCA to identify the families it serves.
“This is another time where we know our grandparents are taken care of because of Campus Kitchen,” Anthony said. “Campus Kitchen is a community partner that we can count on when we need them the most.”
Shannon Brooks, director of the Office of Service-Learning, says there was never a question that UGA would continue to provide meals, as it has since 2010.
“We decided early on as a staff that this was a priority and that our senior clients depend on the meals that are provided through Campus Kitchen,” Brooks said. “I think this says a lot about UGA’s commitment to public service. There’s a reason people are in the jobs that they’re in. They have that mentality that this is what we do. It’s part of our DNA as public service professionals at UGA.”