Student-Led “Food Justice” Programs

Based on data from a recent CSCE Survey on Student Service (2016), the majority of undergraduate respondents (79%) indicated that their service experiences were organized by themselves or through student-led organizations. Two of the most active and most visible of these predominantly student-organized groups—Campus Kitchen at SLU (Agnew, 2016) and Labre Ministry with the Homeless (Schrappen, 2017)—each use food innovations to promote social transformation. Together, these two groups also illustrate how SLU students engage both structural and personal dimensions of justice.

Campus Kitchen and Structural Justice

The Campus Kitchen at Saint Louis University (CKSLU) was founded in 2001, part of an effort from the Washington, DC Central Kitchen to reduce food waste on college campuses and instead redistribute the food to those in need. The DC Central Kitchen chose Saint Louis University as its pilot school, in light of its Jesuit mission, strong community service profile, and engaged student leaders. Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, Campus Kitchens have been started at more than 60 colleges and universities across the country.

With the recent dissolution of the national office, CKSLU is now wholly managed by the University. Organizationally, CKSLU is part of the campus’ Center for Service and Community Engagement, within the Division of Student Development. The CSCE provides a small operating budget to the Kitchen and employs a part-time coordinator to support the student leadership team and help meet community partners’ needs, particularly through the summer when most student volunteers are not on campus. There are 15 members of the student leadership team who lead cooking and delivery shifts every week during the regular academic year, as well as recruit student volunteers and raise its profile on campus. The student leaders also plan and implement a variety of educational programming on campus related to food insecurity. Some members of the leadership team recently founded the Billiken Bounty Food Pantry in collaboration with the Dean of Students Office, to help address growing hunger issues among SLU students.

The Campus Kitchen at SLU engages many partners and stakeholders in its efforts to address food waste and insecurity, both on and off campus. One purpose of these partnerships is to reinforce the need for systemic “food justice” strategics in the region and to model how effective food recovery can better the community as a whole. On campus, the Kitchen works with such offices as the Dean of Students, Campus Ministry, Marketing and Communications, and the Student Involvement Center to leverage support both in terms of student engagement, as well as assistance promoting the many services it provides. There are also significant off-campus partners. In its food recovery efforts, a primary partner is Trader foe’s, which supplies hundreds of pounds of food each week that is past the “shelflife” but is still perfectly safe and edible. The Kitchen also partners with SLU’s Dining Services to recover additional food from on-campus eateries. All of the recovered food is then redistributed in various forms; much of it is transformed into nutritious meals and delivered to elderly, disabled, and otherwise homebound individuals living in two low-income apartment buildings near campus. Meals arc also provided to various homeless shelters and transitional housing programs in the area - for example, Fr. Dempsey’s, which is a transitional housing center for 40 men. The food is also distributed to other community partner organizations in the area who offer meal programs, such as Karen House, a home for women and children run in the spirit of the Catholic Worker Movement.

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