The Campus Kitchen Celebrates First Anniversary by Surpassing 10,000 Meals

It was a Friday afternoon and several students filled The Campus Kitchen, volunteering their time to help prepare meals for those in need.  One of them was Awilda Pomales-Diaz ’18 who was busy carving a donated ham.

“People deserve good food and it makes me feel better helping to provide food to people who can’t do it themselves,” said Pomales-Diaz. “Plus I like being with other people who also want to do this out of their own hearts — it’s good to surround yourself with those kinds of people.”

The Campus Kitchen, which repurposes extra unused food into nutritious meals for the hungry, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Since the kitchen opened its doors on September 11, 2014, it has already had more than 200 volunteers, provided more than 10,000 meals and has helped countless of people throughout the local community.

“One in six Americans struggle with hunger, so we are trying to make a difference in the lives of those in our community,” said Erich Sekel, associate director of campus ministry for community service. “There’s nothing better than watching students put together meals with food I know would have been wasted and then thinking about the people we will feed.”

Sekel recalled their first shift when Sekel and eight student volunteers received 150 boxed lunches from Sodexo that were left over from a conference, which they organized into congregate meals.

“After we delivered the meals, the students were so happy and I was relieved our first shift had gone so well,” added Sekel. “Just like that we were an official campus kitchen.”

The original plan was to make 50 meals a week, but Sekel realized they could do much more and began reaching out to new clients who could benefit from the kitchen’s services. Exactly one year later, The Campus Kitchen has made 10,113 meals, which go to about 30 individual homes as well as shelters and low-income housing organizations such as Magnificat House, Hope House, Hudson County Self Help Center and Saint Lucy’s Shelter.

And the kitchen is continuing to expand. This year, it is making about 400 meals a week and is working toward serving and sharing meals with their clients, rather than strictly delivering them.

“We hope to continue reclaiming wasted food, but expand our services to go beyond simply feeding the hungry,” explained Sekel. “We hope to address the root causes of hunger and work to improve the lives of our clients.”

Like many of The Campus Kitchen’s volunteers, Elizabeth Steillinghagan ’18 was excited about the kitchen’s expansion.

“The first thing I did when I got to Saint Peter’s was get involved with The Campus Kitchen and it’s just been the coolest thing,” said the psychology major. “It’s cooking food, which is fun, and getting to see and know the people who I am helping.”

Newstein Chang ’19 was also there that day to offer his help. Once he heard about The Campus Kitchen during Peacock Prep Day, he was inspired to help the cause.

“Taking unused food and providing it to people was very eye-opening to me,” added Chang. “I think it’s great — it makes full use of the resources we have.”