Apurba Chowdhury, during his third year at Minnesota State University, Mankato, suffered from a sports injury as he badly messed up his knee. Doctors told him he needed surgery. He knew he needed to start saving money, and he did so by cutting back on food.
Chowdhury said, “I had to get surgery and I knew it was going to cost a lot so I tried to save money.”
He would scour the University for free food in hopes he would have another meal. He would attend events, look around the Centennial Student Union and go to club meetings for free food.
He said, “Every organization that I was involved in, they always had food there. I got to know more about where to find food through experience.”
He received a lot of help from his friends who would give him food or bring him to the dining hall as a guest on their meal plan.
“I feel bad for it, but I’m glad they helped me out,” he said.
Chowdhury’s struggle with food insecurity mostly began when he moved off campus. He is an international student and can only work 20 hours a week at the University.
“It’s really expensive for me, even though I worked 20 hours a week in the college, it’s not enough after I have to pay the rent and all of the other bills like Wi-Fi or my cellphone bill,” said Chowdhury.
Usually after paying for all his expenses, most of the money he had leftover he would save for his surgery.
Luckily for him, with the help of his friends and campus resources, starving was not an everyday thing. One of the prominent resources he had was the Campus Kitchen.
Chowdhury learned about the free sacked meals the Campus Kitchen offers to students when he first volunteered there, often reserving some for himself to take home.
The Campus Kitchen offers a small black mini fridge at the entrance of the Crossroads Church near the Performing Arts Building.
In the fridge students, can find free meals ranging from soups, cheddar biscuits, sandwiches, baked potatoes, fruits, pasta, etc. Next to the mini fridge is also a bread cart for students to take from as well.
Karen Anderson, the manager of the Campus Kitchen, said, “Any day you need food you can get access too.
“All you do is you come through the door of the church, you can pick up bread at the bread cart, walk through the campus kitchen, open the fridge and take a baked potato or a PB and J or a cup of soup and walk straight out. You don’t need to talk to anybody, no questions asked. There’s no need to show an ID,” said Anderson.
Along with helping students facing food insecurity, the Campus Kitchen also offers help to organizations outside of the university.
Anderson said, “Campus Kitchen helps deliver food to agencies that help people who may be facing food insecurity. We do all the operations from harvesting food, and storing it, to planning meals, packaging and delivery.”
Some of these agencies include ECHO Food Shelf, Theresa House and Welcome Inn, Salvation Army, the Campus Cupboard, Boys and Girls Club (My Place), South Central College, The REACH, etc.
The Campus Kitchen is mostly student-run as it relies heavily on student volunteers. Chowdhury was a volunteer for two years.
“You can pack food or deliver them, there are various tasks you can do. I did that over two years, and my last year I became a student shift leader in the campus kitchen,” he said.
The Campus Kitchen usually receive food from vendors in restaurants or grocery stores such as Panera or Red Lobster as they rescue foods before they’re thrown away. Student volunteers do everything from rescuing this food, planning meals, shopping, distributing, delivering, etc.
The Campus Kitchen is ServSafe certified and practices safe food handling procedures as Anderson is a Licensed Restaurant Manager.
Every shift, temperatures of food arriving and leaving the Campus Kitchen gets documented as well as the restaurant or store it derived from.
Anderson said, “If people can’t afford to get food, they for sure can’t afford to get sick. We do everything we can to make sure that it’s safe for them.”
The Campus Kitchen has a huge impact on the community as they’re one of many organizations helping resolve food insecurity. Annually they save about 16,000 pounds of food from being wasted and serve up to 2,090 meals throughout Mankato.
Along with the Campus Kitchen, Chowdhury feels fortunate that he was able to receive help from campus resources.
He said, “All the campus resources and the free food I found around campus definitely helped me.”
However, Chowdhury wishes he didn’t have to go through all that he did when it came to food insecurity.
“I didn’t really have a choice,” he said.
Header photo courtesy of Campus Kitchen’s Facebook page.