NU joins leftovers donation program

Sheila Burt and Sheila Burt

Unserved food from Northwestern’s dining halls will become meals at charity organizations in Evanston and Chicago starting next week, after a new program was approved Tuesday.

The Campus Kitchens Project is a nonprofit organization that works with universities nationwide to donate unused food. NU is the third university in the country to establish the program, which will bring together University Dining Services, SodexhoUSA and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The programs will operate out of the Allison Hall dining facility, although food will be collected from several dining halls on the Evanston Campus.

“Our main goal is to take the students at Northwestern and incorporate as part of their college experience community involvement, so that they aren’t just here for four years but actually involving themselves in the community and making a difference,” said Scott Parrish, coordinator of Campus Kitchens for NU.

Evanston officials resolved a zoning issue Tuesday that almost prevented Campus Kitchens from launching the NU program. The city’s zoning board initially did not issue a permit because the city didn’t know what type of zoning the program would operate under, NU dining services officials said.

James Wolinski, director of Evanston’s community-development department, said the project will move forward since the city placed it under the food-service zoning category.

“There shouldn’t be anymore hang-ups,” Wolinski said. “From my standpoint it can happen.”

Parrish said the program arrives at a time when community organizations are struggling financially because of the economic downturn. “We’ll be relieving some of their burden (so the organization’s can) spend money where it really needs to go.”

Eventually organizers hope to distribute 1,500 to 2,000 meals per week with the help of about 70 student volunteers, Parrish said, including members of the Northwestern Community Development Corps.

NCDC also will help Campus Kitchens to attract volunteers, said Laura Beres, the student group’s co-chairwoman and an Education junior.

Joe Curnow, an NCDC member who helped to coordinate NU’s Hunger Awareness Week, said the organization has the potential to become very powerful at NU.

“It’s a great example of using community resources and assets to build a larger community,” said Curnow, an Education sophomore.

Dana Levit, assistant director for dining-service administration and operations, said NU’s location provides a good opportunity to help fill area food needs.

“We’re providing things you just can’t get (easily),” Levit said.

Organizations receiving food will include women’s shelters, senior-citizens organizations, homeless shelters and youth groups.

Jenriyeta Papriov, administrative director for the Evanston YWCA’s Domestic Violence Services, said donating one meal a week can help decrease the organization’s costs by almost 5 percent.

“It will definitely help us money-wise,” she said.

Campus Kitchens already operates at Dillard University in New Orleans and Saint Louis University, where the program began in 2001.

Josah Driml, supervisor for St. Louis University’s program, said students have become more involved with the community because of the program. She estimated that the university donates about 550 meals per week.

“To establish another (program) across the nation is fantastic because we can concentrate our efforts with pre-existing facilities,” Driml said. “For us to not use the university (services) seems like a waste.”