Campus Kitchen provides thousands of pounds of food through food pantries despite decrease in volunteers


Torrie Sweeney and Alysha Allen volunteer at Campus Kitchen on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

Anthony Elder Reporter

The Campus Kitchen at Kent State University, often referred to as CKKSU, provides thousands of pounds of food to individuals in the Kent community. Students, faculty and community members are able to sign up every week for an appointment and can receive up to 25 pounds of free food per visit.

In fall 2020, the organization provided nearly 11,000 pounds of free food.

CKKSU distributes the food from their pantry at the Tri-Towers Rotunda every Tuesday and Friday. There is also a satellite pantry held by the Office of the Dean of Students every Friday, reserved exclusively for students.

Trader Joe’s provides most of the food for the pantries. According to Amanda Woodyard, the director for Community Engaged Learning, nearly 90,000 pounds of food a year comes straight from Trader Joe’s. This includes meat, fruits and vegetables, baked goods and dairy products — most of which are near expiration and must be served promptly through the campus pantries.

CKKSU shifted its focus to providing more food for the pantries following the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic prevents the organization from allowing its normal kitchen shifts where actual meals would be prepared. 

“We’re giving tens of thousands of pounds of food through the food pantries instead of the hot meal programs,” Woodyard said. “I feel like it is still meeting a lot of the needs that individuals have … being able to access supplemental groceries.”

Now, the pantries not only receive more food, but more individuals they need to provide for. According to Woodyard, the number of individuals coming to receive food from the pantries has nearly tripled.

Despite this rise in need for the pantries, volunteer numbers have dropped due to the pandemic. Where three to five volunteers would normally have worked a pantry shift, it is now only one or two.

“Not having a lot of students on campus, I don’t feel like we’re getting the student interest in joining the organization,” Woodyard said.

Tom Sonnanstine, a senior chemistry major, is one of three managers for the organization and one of his responsibilities has been making sure volunteers show up for the shifts they sign up for.

“In the fall it was a little bit more difficult; we were having a fair amount of no-show volunteers,” Sonnanstine said. “But, toward the end … especially as we were getting closer to Thanksgiving break and expecting more people to go home, we started having a lot of repeat people which was really cool.”

The organization hopes to expand the reach of the pantries even further in the coming months.

Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank became affiliated with CKKSU as of last December, giving CKKSU access to various non-perishable food items.

The organization is also in the process of finding a vehicle to purchase — following a successful fundraiser — which will allow CKKSU to provide free food to regional campuses.

According to Woodyard, another means of expanding the pantries would be establishing a better relationship with campus dining services.

“We get calls from student employees all the time that’s like, ‘I work in the dining hall and I see the food going to waste,’” Woodyard said.

With CKKSU residing on the second floor of Tri-Towers, the organization believes that Rosie’s Diner could be a possible starting point for recovering food from campus dining services.

Students interested in volunteering can sign up for various shifts from the CKKSU webpage.

Anthony Elder covers crisis, recovery, hunger and help. Contact him at [email protected].