The day before Thanksgiving, the halls of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., will be quiet. Nearly all of the students will be home during the holiday break.
But in the basement of the church next door, the kitchen will be filled with the sounds of knives chopping, mixers whirring and water boiling. Students who volunteer at the school’s Campus Kitchen will be working all day, along with faculty, staff and parents, to prepare 50 Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings.
See also: Hungry in America: Documentary series
Although the meal may be more elaborate than usual, this isn’t just a holiday activity. Twice a week, 52 weeks a year, students from this all-boys school prepare meals and then walk a few blocks to deliver them door-to-door to about 50 older people who live in nearby low-income apartment buildings.
Founded in 2001 by D.C. Central Kitchen president Robert Egger, the Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) taps three underused resources — school kitchens, leftover food and student volunteers — to feed the hungry. The program has spread to 28 colleges and three high schools nationwide. In 2005, Gonzaga became the first high school Campus Kitchen.
“What I particularly like about the high school and its location is, because they’re walking and going door-to-door, they are able to develop relationships with the clients,” says CKP director Maureen Roche. “Unlike some of our kitchens that may be dropping the meals off at an agency or homeless shelter, they meet the people they are serving.
“Across our network, about a third of our meals every month are going to seniors,” says Roche. “But each kitchen is different because each group finds its own niche population. Often it’s seniors; sometimes it’s children.”
Roche says it’s easier to feed kids because they are accessible through after-school or summer recreation programs. It’s a bit more of a challenge to reach older adults, who can often go unnoticed. “That’s why we encourage our kitchens to look for the people that are more difficult to gain access to, like seniors,” she says.
“For years, we’ve put kids in one place and seniors in another,” says Egger. “Food was the thing that was supposed to bring people together as a community.”