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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Campus Kitchen helps feed Third Ward community


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Campus Kitchen delivers 60 to 70 pounds of food per week to New Hope Housing, a permanent housing facility Houstonians in need. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

A group of UH students is joining the fight to end hunger by delivering leftover food from campus dining halls to homeless shelters in the surrounding Third Ward area.

The UH Campus Kitchen, led by a 13-member student team in partnership with Aramark Dining Services and New Hope Housing, is committed to providing relief for Houston’s homeless.

By the end of this week, the team will have recovered and delivered over 1,000 pounds of food to those in need since its start in early September.

“When I joined the Campus Kitchen team I was so excited because I knew I’d be joining a team of passionate people who are committed to working in their community,” liberal studies sophomore and data and delivery coordinator Greg Goedecke said.

The team is made up of members of UH’s Bonner Leaders Program, housed in the Honors College. As the brainchild of project head and pre-business sophomore Brinda Penmetsa, the UH Campus Kitchen is the national project’s first public university chapter and the second university chapter in Texas, aside from Baylor University.

“It’s great to say that UH has the first Campus Kitchen at a Texas public university,” Penmetsa said. “That’s amazing, and it makes us proud.”

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The UH Campus Kitchen is made up of 13 student members, including five executive sophomore officers and eight freshmen. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

Penmetsa thought up the idea for a Campus Kitchen in her Introduction to Civil Engagement class last fall.

“It started off as something to address a need in the community,” Penmetsa said. “Our professor told us to come up with a project and I wanted to do something with hunger relief.Although I pioneered the idea (but) it’s been a group effort since last fall.”

Within the past seven months the UH Campus Kitchen has raised over $10,000 to pay for supplies and resources.

Last March, the team applied to the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference and were selected from a pool of 200 applicants as winners of the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge, a “business plan-style competition designed to inspire university students to propose solutions to pressing social issues around the world,” according to the CGIU website.

The team also went on to compete and were one of three winners in the Campus Kitchen Sodexo Launch Grant Video Competition where they won a $5,000 grant for a video they made that proved UH deserved to become a national chapter.

The team also applied for grants from the Center for Student Involvement and was able to received funds to aid in their mission.

UH proves a perfect environment for the project.

Surrounded by the Third Ward, the campus is privy to food deserts where few grocery stores and access to fresh produce leave residents scarce options for a healthy meal.

“(Wasting) food is really unacceptable,” liberal studies sophomore Joshua Monsivais, head of recovery, said. “It’s a major problem we find in Houston and all over the nation.”

The team recovers food Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from the Fresh Food Company and Tuesdays and Thursdays they recover from Cougar Woods.

They deliver on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to New Hope Housing, a permanent housing facility for Houston’s in-need citizens at 4415 Perry St.

“The Perry location is one of seven locations and New Hope Housing more broadly is the largest partner in Mayor Parker’s mission of stopping homelessness and hunger,” Penmetsa said. “If we have an excess of food, the staff at New Hope Housing will take it to two other locations.”

The team delivers roughly 60 to 70 pounds of food per week. For Monsivais, seeing the people he’s helping directly makes all the extra time and effort worth it.

“We’ve kind of already developed a welcoming committee at New Hope, they of memorized the schedule of when we show up, and there’s always the same group of people there waiting for us,” Monsivais said. “They are so excited about the kind of food they are going to be receiving. Being able to get that kind of feedback after only a month of recovering really strikes the heart.”

Monsivais said he and his team are hoping to start a “UH Night” at New Hope by the end of the month that goes beyond just delivering the food — students would heat and serve the food themselves, and then spend the rest of the night playing games with the New Hope residents.

“We want to be able to have this UH Night to represent the University, represent the Aramark dining staff and get our students to develop those kinds of relationships where they know the type of people they’re serving,” Monsivais said.

The team is only getting started — they began making deliveries Sept. 4 and have several ideas for the future of the project.

“In the future I’d really like to see services provided where we can cook food and have a campus garden,” Goedecke said. “Right now, we are really focused on recovery and delivery, providing the best services possible.”

As of Friday, the UH Campus Kitchen is officially the 49th chapter of the Campus Kitchens Project. Penmetsa said she is excited for the chapter and cannot wait to help more of those in need.

“After a year of planning, fundraising, presenting, and stressing, we did it,” Penmetsa wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “But we’re just getting started. We are winning victories for the people of Houston though our work while helping build a Tier One culture of service and community engagement at UH. Thank you for your support. I really, really appreciate it.”

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