Luther College is working to limit food waste and feed those in need with the return of the cafeteria to the community program. The program, which was interrupted from March 15 to December 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is operational again.
As part of the Cafeteria to Community program, student coordinators work with food service staff to package foods that are labeled and delivered to three pantries: Open Hands Food Pantry, Northeast Iowa Community Action, and Decorah Food Pantry. The program enables individuals and families to obtain healthy and nutritious meals at little or no cost.
“This program allows students and volunteers in the community (before the pandemic) to come together and volunteer their time for those in need,” said Olivia Helland, student leader of the program.
While she is delighted that the program is back up and running, the road to where they are today has not been without obstacles.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs trying to work around the shortage of students and volunteers due to safety precautions and our online course period. From what seemed like the continuing battle of potential exposures that resulted in quarantine periods and pantry closures receiving our food, we were unable to pack and deliver as much as we would like and see normally, ”Helland said.
Despite these obstacles, the program has collected 2,361 pounds of food as of March 30 and aims to get 3,000 pounds of food into the community by the end of the year. Although not on the usual scale, these contributions have been of great help to the community during an unprecedented time when many are struggling financially.
“The Decorah Food Pantry embodies the belief of our entire community that everyone who needs food should have it,” said Steven Zittergruen of the Decorah Food Pantry. “Our partnership with Luther College helps us fulfill our mission in a way that reduces waste, involves volunteers, and strengthens community-college relationships. This program just makes sense, and we are grateful to Luther College for ‘making this possible. Like everyone else, our customers often appreciate the convenience of having deliciously prepared meals that just need to be reheated. ”
Since the program began six years ago, the Luther’s Cafeteria to Community program has averaged about 12,000 pounds of packaged food each year. They also volunteer an average of 80 hours.
In addition to helping food insecure households, this effort prevents food from going to landfill. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018, food was the largest component of daily waste, accounting for about 24% of all waste going to landfill.
“The community cafeteria supports Luther’s mission in a way that allows us to work in community both on and off campus. We provide service and care to others around us in times of need and strive to contribute to the greater good of our community, in terms of land allocation and sustainability, ”Helland said.
The Community Cafeteria program is always on the lookout for more Luther student volunteers. Interested persons can Sign up online for a one-hour slot on Wednesdays and Sundays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. or by contacting Olivia Helland at [email protected].
Luther College is home to more than 1,800 undergraduate students who explore big questions and take action to benefit individuals, communities and society. Our more than 60 academic programs, our experiential approach to learning, and our welcoming community inspire students to actively learn, live with purpose, and lead courageously for a life of impact. Learn more at luther.edu.