The newest program out of the University of Georgia’s Office of Service-Learning is providing UGA students hands-on experience in making a difference.
The AmeriCorps Community Food Fellows receives grant funding from AmeriCorps State and complements the Office of Service-Learning’s network of AmeriCorps VISTAs. The program launched this fall with 20 food fellows, including 17 UGA undergraduate students, in the inaugural cohort. The fellows are now working with Athens-Clarke County organizations dedicated to reducing food insecurity and food waste in our community.
“Since joining the program, I feel like I finally found my people,” said Madison Caren, who is a fourth-year student with a double major in ecology and environmental resource science. “With so many academic disciplines at UGA, it can be hard to find individuals who are interested in the same specific things as me. The Food Fellows program introduced me to a wonderful community of like-minded individuals.”
Each community food fellow in the program has pledged to complete 900 hours of service over an 11-month term. Throughout their term of service, the fellows will receive a monthly living allowance, and upon completion of the term, they will be eligible to receive a Segal Education Award, which can be used to pay current education expenses. As the program gets rolling, the fellows are branching out to explore the local organizations to complete their service while forming a tight-knit cohort through weekly meetings and training sessions.
Program coordinator Coleman Allums hopes that by connecting with multiple partner organizations this fall, the fellows will find organizations that best align with their interests, and they can be placed with these organizations on a more permanent basis in the spring and summer. So far, the fellows have connected with nearly 15 local partner organizations that focus on food insecurity, including UGArden, Campus Kitchen, Concrete Jungle, Downtown Academy, and Our Daily Bread.
“I have been pleased how much of a difference providing consistent support for these organizations can make,” Allums said. “Because we are serving with so many different entities, we can have our ear to the ground and get regular feedback so we have a better sense of how to assist with the day-to-day needs of these organizations.”
Allums said the goal is to balance the fellows’ long-term and immediate impact in the community with meaningful learning experiences for them. Because many of the fellows have experience in sustainability and nonprofit organizations already, the cohort can spend its training sessions focusing on thinking critically about the more complex situations surrounding food security.
Since joining in September, Caren has mostly served with UGArden and Concrete Jungle, but she has also helped package weekly grocery deliveries with Campus Kitchen, served lunch on Fridays at Downtown Academy, and supported the school garden at Barrow Elementary.
Similarly, Anna Nguyen, a fourth-year dietetics major, has spent most of her time with Campus Kitchen, cooking meals and collecting donated food, and Our Daily Bread, serving food to those in need at First Baptist Church in downtown Athens. She also volunteers with the West Broad Farmers Market on Saturdays.
“I would recommend this program to anyone,” Nguyen said. “I have had a lot of good experiences with everyone and all these organizations.”
Nguyen said she first became interested in service after learning about the issue of food deserts causing and their effects on food insecurity in America. Studying dietetics, she is interested in community nutrition and outreach as well as school nutrition—ensuring that families facing food insecurity have access to nutritious meals.
Along with her double major, Caren is also working toward a minor in environmental soil science as well as the Sustainability Certificate. She said it has been rewarding to see the circular economy of food during her service—from the harvest of food at UGArden to its return to the Earth as compost—and she has learned so much from being out of the classroom in the community.
“As a college student it can be incredibly difficult to manage your time effectively and balance multiple activities,” Caren said. “Between academics, social activities, clubs, and a job, serving in the community can take a backseat. I love that the Food Fellows program allows me to make service a priority in my life.”