Going on a delivery route with the University of Georgia’s “Campus Kitchen” was an eye-opening day for two UGA freshmen Thursday.

Amelia Vu, 17, and Liam Grant, 18 are participating in UGA’s “Freshman College Experience” program, which means they come to campus for the summer semester, live in a residence hall and take two courses — one of which is meant to teach them both the skills they’re going to need to succeed as college students, and to get them out into the larger Athens community to see what it’s like, and to pitch in as volunteers — “service learning,” as it’s called.

They signed up this summer to help out with Campus Kitchen, a UGA group whose volunteers twice a week prepare and deliver meals to people who can use the extra food — mainly older people on low, fixed incomes, including a sizeable number who are grandparents taking care of grandchildren, sometimes full-time.

Vu and Grant were there mostly to learn as a more experienced UGA student volunteer, Mary Beth Robertson, distributed bags of meals to seven houses or apartments.

“It’s a blessing,” they heard from one recipient, Mildred Huff, who turns 90 in two months. Her retirement income is a meager monthly Social Security check, and the Campus Kitchen meals Robertson drops off twice a week make a difference, said Huff, who worked many years as a school cook.

It was the first trip out for the two freshman, but Robertson has been slowly getting to know the people to whom she’s bringing meals.

“I fell in love with Athens,” Robertson said. “I want to be a part of the community, and not in that student bubble. It helps me know there’s more to life than school.”

And she likes getting to know people and hear about their experiences, she said.

“I just love talking to people,” she said.

Robertson could finish her route in half an hour, but stays to talk a while to Huff and the other people on her route — so on Thursday, Vu and Grant got to hear the stories too — to hear Huff tell a little about growing up in Lexington, where her mother took in washing and her father drove a truck, for example, or about peeling potatoes by hand for about 500 to 600 children.

“I just cooked enough so I could give the kids extra,” Huff said.

It’s students like Robertson who kept Campus Kitchen going for more than six years now, said Campus Kitchen coordinator Bradley Turner. Turner is a UGA employee, and gets help from full-time AmeriCorps worker Kalei Evans and interns.

The program has become a centerpiece for UGA’s Office of Service Learning since it began in spring semester 2010, first by a class taught by Cecelia Herles, assistant director of UGA’s Institute of Women’s Studies, but now as a standalone group. About four years ago, the UGA Campus Kitchen affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen organization, which offers training and help for student groups who begin Campus Kitchen groups on their campuses. The national organization also holds the university chapters to some rules, such as making sure some of the staff are trained in safe food handling practices, Turner said.

It’s tougher to keep the food deliveries going in the summer, when UGA’s enrollment is less than half what it is in fall and spring, and there are fewer volunteers available.

Robertson’s route is longer, and some families instead of getting meal deliveries this summer accepted free subscriptions in a community supported agriculture group called Collective Harvest, where members pay a membership fee to get a weekly allotment of groceries from the farms that are part of the group.

That slightly lightens the load for the Campus Kitchen staff and volunteers, Turner said.

They do more than just deliver meals, he explained. In the first place, someone has to gather up the food — much of it from the student-run UGArden, and much also donated from area supermarkets.

Then the food is cooked and packaged into individual meals at Talmage Terrace, a retirement community behind the Beechwood Shopping Center, which allows Campus Kitchen to use its large kitchen.

Campus Kitchen volunteers go out once a week on routes, and once a week take meals to the Athens Community Council on Aging, for older people participating in the council’s daily programs or for delivery through the council’s Meals on Wheels Programs.

Turner also began a new program this year, once a month preparing community meals for the residents of Denny Towers, whose residents are mainly older people on limited incomes.

“It’s like a well-oiled machine,” Robertson said.

About a third of the students volunteering at Campus Kitchen last year were enrolled in UGA service learning courses, which require students to do service as part of their coursework.

The rest are students who just want to do it, like Robertson, who just turned 20.

“I really like helping people and I can’t seem to shake it,” she said.

Written by Lee Shearer, Athens Banner Herald on June 23, 2016 

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