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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Campus Kitchens provides sustainable service to community


The CKUH executive team pictured left to right: Nicholas Nguyen, Deborah Okoro, Robert Laroche, Kevin Singh, Naina Sakruti, Kosi Njoku, and Rodolfo Yamba. | C. McRae Peavy/The Cougar

Campus Kitchens, a food recovery program, has recovered close to 15 thousand pounds of food from the Aramark-run dining halls and other facilities around campus since it’s launch in October 2015.

Four Honors College students founded the University of Houston chapter, wanting to make a lasting difference in the community. One of the four founders, computer science junior Naina Sakruti, is now the head of internal communications. She explained that when she was growing up, her parents had been very strict about not wasting food was always told to finish her plate.

“When I came to college, I noticed a lot of people at Moody (The Fresh Food Company dining hall) wouldn’t finish everything on their plate,” Sakruti said. “It would bug me a little, but I would never do anything about it. I couldn’t tell people to finish their food. I’m not their mom.”

Sakruti found an opportunity with CKUH to help eliminate food waste through the Bonner Leaders Program operated within the Honors College that offers “developmental and educationally meaningful service opportunities for students,” according to their website.

She joined with the other founders to secure grants from several sources, including the Campus Kitchens Project competition, the Resolutions Project Social Venture Challenge at the Clinton Global Initiative University Meeting in Miami and the Center for Student Involvement at UH, according to a press release.

A year later, CKUH launched.

Deborah Okoro, a psychology and pre-nursing sophomore and the head of coordination, said that since CKUH’s launch, they have grown to 20 members, all of which are ServSafe certified.

Rodolfo Yamba, a psychology and liberal studies sophomore and co-head of nutrition for CKUH, said the members recover food from UH’s dining halls Monday through Friday and deliver the meals to New Hope Housing, a single room occupancy provider that serves people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in Houston’s Third Ward.

CKUH delivers to three of New Hope Housing’s various locations, and the organization’s mission is to “provide life-stabilizing, affordable, permanent housing with support services for people who live on very limited incomes.”

“The appeal of New Hope is that it’s not just some place that people go to get meals; it’s not like a soup kitchen,” Okoro said. “The residents live there. It’s low-income housing. It’s kind of supposed to be temporary, but a lot of them have been there for a while. It’s just what they can afford.”

Okoro said the average income for residents at New Hope Housing is around $9,000 a year.

Most of the food that comes from the dining halls is already prepared into a meal, but Sakruti explained that if they receive unprepared ingredients, they will donate them to Star of Hope, another Houston organization that helps homeless.

A running theme among the executive board members is a desire for lasting impact.

They don’t just want to donate food to people in need — they want to build a relationship with the people they are helping and create an organization that does so even after they have graduated.

“Something that has always been an innate part of our relationship with New Hope Housing is us interacting with the residents,” said Robert Laroche, a biology sophomore and head of data and analytics.

The group also hosts events called Serving Saturday on Saturday afternoons during which they deliver and serve meals to residents.

“While half of us are serving the food, half of us will be out there sitting down with the residents and talking with them, playing card games, doing other things,” Laroche said.

Their media team, headed up by Kevin Singh, a pre-business freshman, began a “Resident of the Week” program, where each week, CKUH interviews a couple of residents on a Serving Saturday and post the stories they hear on their Facebook page bi-weekly.

“Most people are kind of scared of the third ward; they don’t know these people,” said Singh. “If you get their stories on paper (and) their lives on a social media website, it really can bring it out to a lot of people,” Singh said.

CKUH also runs a nutrition workshop for New Hope Housing residents, which allows the group to go beyond serving and interacting with them. It provides the residents with healthy, sustainable recipes for them to cook meals for themselves.

The organization does not collect fees from its members, but raises money through grants and donations. On Friday, they will begin a fundraising effort for a competition run by the national Campus Kitchens Project called Raise the Dough.

“Whoever gets the most gets monetary prizes,” said Nicholas Nguyen, a biochemical and biophysical sciences sophomore and head of finance and fundraising. “If you raise the most money, you get more money. If you get the most donors, that’s also more money.”

He explained that nationals keeps ten percent of what every chapter raises, but they receive the rest.

“One of the things that really called me to it was definitely the opportunity for development — knowing that working on this project, you’d be able to really shape what that project looked like, what this chapter here at the University of Houston looked like, and what it will look like in the future, after we leave,” Laroche said. “You’re not just in a service program, you’re actually developing a project that’s gonna last longer than you’re here.”

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