guest post by Jordan Norton, an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga University
For most of my term as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I have been preparing and serving meals at Pioneer Victory House, which provides housing to veterans dealing with chemical dependency, mental health issues and criminal histories. Every Monday I have been able to go and serve the residents and spend time talking with and listening to them. What I have found is that these veterans are some of the most respectful and gracious guys I have been able to work with.
Part of my responsibility as an AmeriCorps volunteer is to not only serve but engage veterans in service. I aim to build veterans’ connections in their community and build a sense of belonging and purpose in these men and women that they may not have otherwise been able to feel.
On a recent sunny Saturday, I brought the veterans in to help clean up our community garden. I had covered the individual beds with straw after allowing a cover crop of clover and rye to grow, and as spring creeps into Spokane, it was finally time to uncover the beds and let them breathe.
I had preconceptions about the challenges of getting everyone signed up and ready to work, but it seems that lately the things I most dread turn out to be the easiest. As soon as my veteran volunteers arrived, they wanted to get right to work. As some of the guys finished removing the straw from the beds, others came through with shovels to turn the beds over and ensure that any leftover straw or cover crop seed would be incorporated into the soil. The men who cleaned the shed left no spot undone. It was cleared of dust and debris, the shelves were realigned and wired so that we wouldn’t have problems with them coming apart in the future, and it was reorganized making it so much easier to find everything.
Our task became a community effort as we all talked and laughed and worked. Our backgrounds, as varied as they were, disappeared in the midst of mutual respect and an understanding that the work we did was for something greater than ourselves.
The experience brought me a little closer with these guys I’ve been serving for several months now, and it was so nice to be able to work alongside of them and be able to share the experience. I have always found gardening to be a therapeutic activity, and gardening with the goal of feeding those less fortunate brings in that much more value to the experience.
For the past seven days, 19 Campus Kitchens across the country competed against one another to see who could raise the most money to support their operations. They galvanized hundreds of student, faculty and community supporters – 524, to be exact – with impressive results. Together, they raised $26,780 to support their innovative student-powered hunger relief efforts.
The Campus Kitchen at Gettysburg College (CKGC) raised $7,529 and won an additional $1,000 grant for raising the most of any Campus Kitchen. CKGC plans to use the funds they raised to support their Healthy Options initiative, which provides more than 70 families experiencing food insecurity who are yet not eligible for federal food assistance programs with ability to purchase healthy, fresh foods. Last year alone, CKGC recovered 17,365 pounds of food and served 7,522 meals to 3,747 clients in their community.
The Campus Kitchen at Saint Louis University came in second place, raising $3,652 and winning an additional $500 grant. Students with the Campus Kitchen at William and Mary raised $2,795 to come in third, winning an additional $250. A $750 grant was also given to the Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia (who raised $3,661) for engaging 106 donors – the most of any competitor. All grants were supplied by Hilton Worldwide, which supports programs that address food insecurity as part of their commitment to Travel with PurposeTM and strengthen communities.
A giant “thank you” goes out to all of our 524 donors. Your support makes all the difference in powering our lean and sustainable solutions to hunger, which since our founding in 2001 has empowered student volunteers to recover more than 3,319,000 pounds of food and serve more than 2,093,000 meals. Thank you for investing in our work!