Following UGA’s announcement that campus would be closed Monday due to Hurricane Irma, the Campus Kitchen at UGA launched a special operation to help our clients prepare for the possibility of an extended power outage.
Our Campus Kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine. Something we like to call our wheel to represent our ever repeating weekly operations--the wheel never stops! We collect the food, we cook the food, we pack the food, then we deliver the food before the cycle starts over once again the following week. This cycle is very front loaded so when a Monday holiday, or in rare cases like this, a natural disaster hits, we are graced with enough caring individuals who are both reliable and flexible to ensure that our families are fed and our students stay safe.
Sunday is our biggest day, followed by Mondays. Every Sunday we collect food from Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market in the morning. This is the time when our meal planners come in to survey the items and set aside boxes of various side dishes that will later be cooked from scratch and packed up into individual containers. Sundays are also the days we pack up grocery bags full of food to be delivered to our clients along with the individual meals they can easily reheat to eat. Thankfully our Sunday operations were not derailed as Athens would not feel the effects of the storm until the following morning. The deliveries typically happen Mondays, even on Tuesdays but with Hurricane Irma finally making its way through north Georgia, deliveries would have to wait. Governor Deal declared all of Georgia in a state of emergency on Monday and Tuesday.
While we often get about what we need from our grocery stores on Sundays and from our friends at UGArden after Monday harvests, these items are usually perishable and require refrigeration. We have some canned goods we are able to have on hand for cooking or emergencies, but our shelves aren’t always full and more often than not, the backstock we have is a random assortment of odds and ends like pickles and olives, snacks, and cream of mushroom soup. We rely heavily on sourcing our foods via donations to keep our overall operations costs low. Things like beans and canned fruit are hard to come by around here because we use them often when our stock of frozen meat has gone low or in the rare cases that the quality of the donated fruit is already too far gone. We had vegetables left to give but we knew that in order for us to provide a well-rounded bag of nonperishable goods to the families we serve, we knew we needed help sourcing the fruit and proteins.
Campus Kitchen serves two vulnerable populations: older adult-headed families, chiefly grandparents raising grandchildren, as well as Meals on Wheels individuals. Both groups may face challenges in preparing for and being adequately informed about the approaching weather, including a lack of transportation resources and impaired mobility.
On Saturday evening, a team of 3 Campus Kitchen staff surveyed a subsection of 40 clients by phone, asking if the families had easy access to non-perishable food, non-electric can openers, flashlights, and had an ability to store potable water. 11 families were initially identified Saturday night as having need for some combination of these supplies. We put out a call on our social media and sent out emails to our members and partners for support in gathering up enough of these items.
Even before the can drive began, people from the community and even CKUGA Alumni dropped off supplies outside the Office of Service Learning. From 12 noon to 3 pm, Campus Kitchen students and staff gathered supplies outside the Office of Service-Learning, collecting donations from individuals.
Recirculated by UGA’s Public Service and Outreach social media accounts, the cause drew donations from Campus View Church of Christ, Athenians in the 5 Points neighborhood, and Campus Kitchen students. The call also got the attention of Pulaski Heights BBQ, who shared our call to action and even offered stew for clients, volunteer drivers and students. Unfortunately, with a full day of operations and our own storm preparations to make, we took a rain check on the BBQ but the offer was heartwarming.
As some families called back and others were called again, the number grew to 17 families comprised of 38 individuals, 17 of whom were children. Through the donation drive, 9 households with a verified need received 2 gallons of water or water bottles and six cans of fruit, protein and vegetables per person, enough for two days’ worth of supplies. Through staff and student purchases, 20 flashlights and 8 manual can openers were distributed to families with a verified need for those items. All items were delivered to client homes before 5 pm.
On Monday, the rains and winds tore through Georgia for most of the day. While Hurricane Irma was pushed farther west of Athens, we still felt its wrath as trees and power lines came down throughout our town. Some neighborhoods were still without power even going into the weekend. On Wednesday when the storm had passed and the roads were cleared, we were able to get out to our clients once again and finally deliver our usual meals and groceries.
Overall, we are so thankful for everyone who came out at the last minute to help us deliver emergency supplies to those who did not have the means to prepare for Hurricane Irma. We couldn’t have done it without your help.