High School Kids Keep Campus Kitchen Running in the Summer

Aug 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm
Last summer's students on delivery with one Campus Kitchen's clients - Image courtesy of Amy Lee
Image courtesy of Amy Lee
Last summer's students on delivery with one Campus Kitchen's clients

Nationwide, 29 Campus Kitchen Projects operate with college student volunteers who learn about cooking, nutrition and food conservation while preparing and delivering meals for the needy. But what happens in the summer, when most of those students take a break?

At Saint Louis University's Campus Kitchen (3828 West Pine; 314-977-3881), it means bringing in a bunch of teens from across the country and giving them the opportunity to learn about culinary arts, nutrition and poverty relief. More than a hundred high school students have passed through the program this summer, thanks to YouthWorks. The organization matches kids with service projects nationwide.

"Campus Kitchen was a fun way to help others and connect with the community of St. Louis by serving," says Sydney Evancic, a fifteen-year-old volunteer from Carmel, Indiana.

Lauren Beeker, a Saint Louis University student and Campus Kitchen summer intern has been impressed with the talent that has come through the kitchen. "I am surprised at some of the culinary knowledge these young kids have. When I was their age, I knew much less about ingredients and culinary lingo -- sauteing, dicing -- than they do. Maybe the Food Network is having some effect."

Jenny Bird, kitchen coordinator at the Campus Kitchen, gave us more information.

Gut Check: What makes SLU's Campus Kitchen program unique?

Jenny Bird, kitchen coordinator, Campus Kitchen at Saint Louis University: [We're] a food re-purposing program. The food we use to make healthy, delicious meals for hungry clients is nearly all food that would otherwise be Dumpster-bound. We rescue the food from grocery stores, restaurants, campus dining facilities and remake it into meals which we deliver to the doorsteps of 300 elderly, disabled and low-income clients each week.

What brought more than one hundred high-schoolers to the Saint Louis Campus Kitchen program?

Since the kitchen is located on a college campus, during the school year, we are staffed mainly by college student volunteers who live on campus. During the summer, when most of the college students are gone, we would struggle to get all of the food out if not for the YouthWorks program. YouthWorks send groups of high school students from all over the country -- from Minnesota, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska -- to St. Louis to perform a week of service.

What are the kids learning in the kitchen?

Not only do the kids learn more about culinary arts, they also learn more about the issues of poverty and food scarcity in the urban environment. They also have the chance to interact with the clients when they deliver the meals.

What are they cooking, and who's teaching?

They've cooked a great variety of dishes. This time of year, we have a huge bounty of fresh produce which must be used quickly, so we focus on that. Some menus they've made include: roasted-red-pepper chili, garlic bread, sautéed green beans and strawberry-banana muffins; lemon chicken with oven-roasted veggies, roasted potatoes and melon salad.

The campus kitchen coordinator -- myself -- or two SLU college student summer interns -- Lauren Beeker and Malik Brown -- run the shifts and instruct the students on culinary and food safety practices.

How many of the kids have culinary career aspirations?

None of the students here today specifically said they had culinary aspirations, but many of them already know a lot about cooking.

Full disclosure: The RFT is a media partner for the National Campus Kitchen Conference.