More than just food

Anne Broache

Delivering dinner in Styrofoam containers twice a week is more than just volunteer work to Erin Burke. She knows that, at the end of her rounds, a visit with her adopted grandmother awaits.

Burke, an Education senior, has worked for the nonprofit Campus Kitchens Project at Northwestern since its debut last spring. Many clients know her by now, but perhaps none so well as Alice Lanza.

“Every time I deliver,” Burke said, “I spend a minimum of an hour talking to her.”

Burke arrived at Lanza’s Evanston apartment, part of Cook County’s subsidized housing for senior citizens, a little later than usual Oct. 7. Still, her knock prompted a rousing, “Come in!”

“It’s just the most wonderful, young, caring people in the world,” Lanza said of Campus Kitchens, pausing for emphasis after each adjective. “And I love you because you care about senior citizens.”

Lanza said she appreciates the deliveries of pita bread and bean salads, which she sees as health-conscious choices, as well as the blue Jell-O and pasta.

But mostly she likes the company.

“You come in here and you bring joy,” Lanza said. “That’s what this is about.”

The Campus Kitchens Project at NU is the third site of the nationwide organization. During Campus Kitchens Week, Oct. 19 to 25, the national organization plans to launch three new sites and hopes to spread awareness.

Burke said she hopes to build relationships with her clients, so she usually sticks to one of three delivery routes. For her frequent east route, she steers her blue Honda Accord and its cooler-filled backseat to Boys Hope, a two-house refuge for low-income scholars, and two subsidized apartment buildings for senior citizens.

Although many sites require only quick drop-offs, Burke hangs onto details about the people she serves. One elderly resident, she said with a laugh, often wears only underwear when he answers the door. Another is Russian, she thinks, and speaks little English.

“But he always opens the door and says, ‘Thank you! Thank you!'” said Burke, demonstrating the man’s vigorous style and broad smile. “He’s one of my favorites.”

The week is scheduled to include “Hunger 101” sessions at residence halls, guest “chefs” from organizations served by the project and a volunteer party Monday at Tommy Nevin’s Pub.

Events will conclude Oct. 25 on Make A Difference Day, a national day of community service created by USA Weekend magazine. Campus Kitchens volunteers will run fresh-produce collection drives for use in future cooking sessions.

Every Monday and Wednesday evening, Campus Kitchens volunteers meet in Allison Hall’s kitchen to prepare meals. The meals go to low-income seniors and organizations such as the YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter and the youth-oriented Family Focus.

The organization primarily prepares unused food from campus dining halls but sometimes uses donations from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Volunteers deliver about 520 meals per week on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, program coordinator Scott Parrish said. All meals undergo a rigorous health inspection process before the delivery cars depart.

Cooking sessions average about 10 members per shift, but about 50 more students turned up at Allison Hall on Oct. 6 to learn how to get involved.

Parrish encouraged the group to go out into the community and attack social issues. He emphasized the potential for interaction with clients.

“It’s not like any of us has to have a degree in culinary science or anything,” Parrish said.

But improvisational skills in the kitchen can help, said Christine Klotz, a Weinberg sophomore who has cooked for Campus Kitchens since August.

“One time I saw that all we had was corn and hot dogs,” she said. “We had 200 hot dogs and about 100 ears of corn, so we had to fashion good meals out of seemingly gross things.”

Dave Shelley, a McCormick senior, worked all of the cooking shifts this summer. Not a self-professed chef, he said he has found advice in the metallic, industrial-strength Allison kitchen.

“We’ll ask Benito, the head chef, what goes good with beans, or something,” he said.

But the most rewarding part of the program, volunteer Mike Schacht said, comes through the delivery shifts.

“People getting one meal will be like, ‘You’re my savior,'” said Schacht, a McCormick junior.