By Gabby Gavina, Comm ’20, communication intern in the Office of Marketing and Communication
Large portions, unfinished meals, frivolous grocery shopping and food forgotten and left to expire. These habits are all too common in the United States.
Each year, Americans waste more than 60 million tons of food — all while nearly 37 million people struggle with food insecurity, according to Feeding America. Enter Marquette University Neighborhood Kitchen, an organization dedicated to fighting food waste and providing meals to those struggling with hunger.
MUNK, located in Mashuda Hall, partners with Dining Services to recover unused food from on-campus dining centers. Once collected, staff and volunteers then repurpose the food in a variety of creative ways to build nourishing meals, which are then delivered to those in need throughout the community.
“We’re a nation of excess, and I think that from a place of privilege it’s hard for us to see that a lot of times,” says Christine Little, MUNK’s newly appointed kitchen coordinator. “Thinking about food waste and food recovery and being able to repurpose food waste helps me, personally, be much more mindful about the food that I am about to throw out.”
MUNK’s mission might sound familiar to the campus community. There was a similar program that went by Campus Kitchen at Marquette. It was part of a nationwide network of college kitchens called The Campus Kitchens Project. Based in Washington, D.C., the program was fully funded by government grants. In 2017, though, the program lost its funding and college kitchens across the country were left to fend for themselves. With that, Campus Kitchen at Marquette began running out of resources and eventually found itself without a director.
The kitchen could have simply hung up its aprons, but much like the food they’ve recovered over the years, longtime volunteers and staff members could not just stand by and let a good thing go to waste.
In October, with funding from Marquette and direction from Rick Arcuri, executive director of student affairs operations, the kitchen established itself as a new organization with its new name.
Little — who relocated from Mississippi to become the kitchen’s new coordinator — said she has always been passionate about sustainability and helping those less fortunate, and is fascinated by the ways in which the kitchen’s head volunteer chef Sharon Hope repurposes leftover food.
In addition to her fulltime job as a chef for a food service company, Hope volunteers her Friday evenings to help create meals from food that would otherwise be thrown out.
Last month, MUNK recovered more than 100 leftover salads from a catered event on campus. The salads, under Hope’s guidance, were taken apart, the ingredients organized into groups and frozen. The plan is that the ingredients will be used to make soups.
“I like playing with the food and being able to take the small amount of resources we have and turning them into meals,” she says. “I may not be able to give [the community] money, but I can give my time. Sharing food is one of the greatest joys of my life.”
In all, Hope has helped feed the Marquette community for more than three decades.
MUNK’s most recent repurposed meal crafted by Hope, which included enchiladas and an apple dessert, provided nearly 30 meals to the Benedict Center — a nonprofit providing community-based substance abuse and mental health treatment, education and support to women in the criminal justice system.
This food and the people who save and deliver it all makes a real difference for those who might not know where their next meal is coming from, Little says.
Little said MUNK is in a rebuilding phase and the goal is for it to return to its full capacity soon. That, though, she added, will require more partnerships and a larger team of people dedicated to serving as many people as possible.
Students looking to get involved can submit a volunteer application online.