Parents equip students for community service

This story was written by Charles McNair.

There’s a hungry population in UGA’s backyard.

It might not be obvious, in an Athens bursting with hopeful faces of college students. But the University of Georgia’s hometown has a significant aging population and other groups who face economic challenges that make three meals a day an ongoing struggle.

Typically, individuals experiencing food insecurity visit food banks or rely on deliveries from local service organizations. In 2020, though, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the tables on food-sharing operations. It was time for innovation. If hungry Athenians couldn’t safely venture out for meals, maybe it was time for meals to come to them.

Supported by a parent-funded $38,270 grant, UGA’s hunger relief program will soon serve Athens in a new way. The student-powered Campus Kitchen will use its grant funding to purchase a mobile kitchen trailer–similar to a food truck–to deliver free breakfasts around the community and serve as a dedicated space for fresh produce processing and preservation.

campus kitchen volunteer

Dhairya Shukla (BS ’19) delivers food for Campus Kitchen.

And it’s all possible because of the Parents Fund, which supports safe-campus initiatives, scholarships, leadership experiences and other programs that enhance the quality of life for students at UGA. The Parents Leadership Council (PLC), a group of highly engaged parents who are eager to make a direct impact on undergraduate student life, administers the funds to student and campus organizations through its grants program.

“The PLC has historically given our group about $5,000 per year, but when the pandemic hit and Campus Kitchen wanted to step up in a big way, the PLC stepped up too,” says Andie Bisceglia, campus kitchen coordinator in UGA’s Office of Service-Learning. (Campus Kitchen is a program of Service-Learning. The Office of Service-Learning is a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, which oversees the program in conjunction with the UGA Office of Instruction.)

“This initiative, including the upcoming food trailer, is fully run by UGA students and provides them an amazing opportunity for servant leadership and community service,” adds Shannon Brooks, the director of the Office of Service-Learning. “With Campus Kitchen, student leaders and volunteers transform unused food from grocery stores and farms into meals and groceries that are delivered to older adults and human service agencies wherever there’s a need in Athens.”

Bisceglia and Brooks believe in the win-win nature of Campus Kitchen. The hungry get meals while student volunteers learn about food service. The students come from across campus and are majoring in everything from public health to nutrition and dietetics. Those majors are a natural fit for a program like Campus Kitchen.

“Students are our heartbeat,” Bisceglia says. “They do meaningful work, they’re compensated for it, and they learn how to manage issues around food discovery and delivery. Campus Kitchen becomes their ‘thing’ as a college experience.”

Brooks gives credit to UGA parents for their generosity in supporting the Parents Fund and the Parents Leadership Council Grants Program.

“The food truck,” Brooks says, “will offer students a whole new level of experience as they take ownership of bringing meals out into the community, serving those less fortunate, and reimagining what community service can look like.”