November 26, 2013
By Diane Hageman
The statistics are staggering.
The USDA reports that 1 in 10 Minnesota households are food insecure (lacking enough safe and nutritious food to meet their daily dietary needs). About 10.4 percent of Stearns County's population experiences food insecurity. This means that nearly 640 people in St. Joseph, Minn., are food insecure, according to Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity.
Through the leadership of alumna Natalie Keane '13, CSB is working to help change that in a small yet significant way.
Keane, who returned to campus in August, is establishing the Community Kitchen program with a primary goal of distributing high-quality, nutritious food in a dignified manner to those experiencing food insecurity. Her role as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) has been made possible through a grant from the Initiative Foundation and the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University's Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement (ELCE).
She spent the first couple of months in her position researching other programs and meeting with on-campus resources to develop the program.
"Augsburg and Minnesota State University, Mankato have 'Campus Kitchen' programs which follow a national model," Keane said. "CSB's program is unique in that we see our program as a strategy, rather than a service, to mobilize campus and community members and collaborate with other organizations to be agents of systemic, long-term change."
Together with CSB Culinary Services, CSB/SJU Nutrition Department, CSB Campus Ministry and CSB Office of Sustainability and ELCE, Keane has developed a process for providing the surplus food from the Gorecki Center to non-profit programs in the central Minnesota area. It is estimated that up to 85 meals per week can be offered to community organizations and will also help to reduce food waste at CSB.
CSB senior Andee Holdener, a management major from Salt Lake City, Utah, has played a key role as volunteer coordinator, organizing close to 100 CSB and SJU students interested in assisting with the program.
In late October, they began providing meals congregate (group)-style to the women's youth program aimed at Latina girls, ages 10-18 offered through Casa Guadalupe Multicultural Community, a nonprofit organization based in Cold Spring, Minn. to meet the social service needs of the Latino community in the area. They also did two deliveries of pre-packaged meals and pizza ingredients to parents taking the "Simply Good Cooking" class through ReachUp/Head Start in St. Cloud, Minn. There are plans to more additional non-profit partners in the future.
The meals are nutritious and tasty and range from Mediterranean chicken, fettuccini Alfredo and Brussels sprouts to tator tot hot dish, tomato soup and green beans. In the first month of the program, they delivered 168 meals.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Keane, along with Jackie Kemnic, a CSB sophomore nutrition major from Rosemount, Minn., busily prepared the food to be transported from CSB to Cold Spring. Keane has received ServSafe® Certification as a food protection manager, a crucial step in the process that ensures safe food handling practices are followed. Kemnic assisted with reheating the food to the proper temperature and placed it in thermo containers. "We make sure our operations leaders and volunteers follow safe food handling practices," Keane explained.
Keane and Kemnic were soon joined by Christina Rommelfanger, a CSB sophomore English major from Omaha, Neb., and Ho Pan Yeung, a SJU senior accounting major from Hong Kong. Together, the three students and Keane hauled the containers to a mini-bus for the ride to Cold Spring.
All three students expressed their concern for and interest in helping to combat hunger.
Kemnic, who was being trained as a Community Kitchen operations leader, plans to volunteer every other week. "Hunger is obviously a big issue world-wide and in our own communities. I have a strong passion to try to help stop it," she said.
Rommelfanger saw it as a great opportunity to get more involved with the community. Yeung wanted to learn about ways that the United States tries to combat hunger as compared to Hong Kong.
Upon arrival at the women's youth program site, the students and Keane unpacked the food and prepared to serve the 10 Latina girls in attendance that day. Once everyone was served, the students joined the girls in the meal and enjoyed the opportunity to connect and learn about their lives.
"This is such a great partnership, one that I really value," said Mayuli Bales, executive director of Casa Guadalupe Multicultural Community. "With our women's youth group, we want to empower the girls and help to build their self-esteem and personal identity.
"The long-term goal is for the girls to think about going to college and having Saint Ben's, a women's college, so close by is very beneficial. By having meals together, it provides an opportunity to build relationships with the college students."
"They serve the meals with open hearts and want to connect with these girls," Bales added. "I am so grateful to work with Bennies and Johnnies. The number of hours they volunteer for this and other Casa Guadalupe programs is amazing."