The kitchen is open: CKP resumes full-time operations

Students volunteer at a weekly food packaging shift at West Village Dining Hall as part of the Campus Kitchens Project. // Photos by Ethan Vitak Student Publications

After COVID-19 precautions reduced many of its operations, the Campus Kitchens Project (CKP), a program dedicated to reducing food waste and providing meals to the food insecure population at Tech and in the greater Atlanta community, is now back to its full-time operations.

The Technique recently talked to Dheeraj Bandaru, fourth-year CS and president of the CKP, to learn more about the organization and its work.

“We run food recovery shifts throughout the week, and we have partnered with dining services and now Greek life to supply our food donations,” Bandaru said. “We have been on campus for about six years now.”

CKP also partners with Students’ Temporary Assistance and Resources (STAR) Services, another program on campus committed to helping students in need access resources like clothing (through Campus Closet), finances (through the Dean Griffin Hip Pocket Fund) and food (through Klemis Kitchens, a food pantry).

“Our partnership with STAR Services has been super important in our operations as our faculty advisor is Steve Fazenbaker who also runs STAR,” Bandaru said. “Campus Kitchens works with STAR to get funded, and in return, we donate a large portion of our food donations to the STAR program and Klemis Kitchen.”

Like many clubs and organizations on campus and around the world, CKP experienced an operational slow down during the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic made it very hard for Campus Kitchens’ operations, and we had to actually freeze all operations for a semester which halted a lot of the progress and momentum we had made over the past two years in terms of presence at Georgia Tech,” Bandaru said. “We had to reduce the number of shifts due to reduced membership and volunteers last semester, but we are slowly working to get back to full operations, and some of my goals over this school year are to grow and help more people than ever before.”

This semester, CKP is organizing three food packaging shifts a week at dining halls on campus, such as West Village and Brittain. By the end of the school year, Bandaru hopes to have shifts every day of the week.

“During food packaging shifts, volunteers arrive at the location and help package leftover food into meals with other volunteers,” Bandaru said. “It is a very fun, social and quick volunteering opportunity.”

CKP also offers students the opportunity to serve as drivers who help transport the food to different locations. Sydney Blakeney, fourth-year INTA, is a frequent volunteer with CKP and normally serves as a driver.

“At the end of each packing shift, I drive the meals over to Klemis Kitchen or to an off-campus center where we donate additional meals to people experiencing homelessness in the Atlanta area,” Blakeney said.

“It’s also super fun to try to fill up my car with 50-90 containers of food, and it typically requires us to fill up the trunk and the backseat.”

Blakeney first became involved with CKP while volunteering for another service organization on campus, Mobilizing Opportunities for Volunteer Experiences (MOVE).

“The committee I was serving on at the time created service events for issues related to hunger and homelessness, and we partnered with STAR on campus to help out Klemis Kitchen in a food packing event,” Blakeney said. “From there, I wanted to help out the organization more, so I signed up to join. Now, knowing that I can help fellow students not have to worry about where their next meals are coming from really motivates [me] to continue volunteering whenever I can.”

For those involved in volunteering with CKP, the experience has been positive and rewarding. According to Bandaru, many students find packaging or driving food with CKP as one of the easiest ways to give back while in school.

“Campus Kitchens also helped me meet people who were just as passionate about this type of service and who want to make an impact on and off of our campus,” Blakeney said.

Bandaru echoed Blakeney’s sentiments.

“I have truly enjoyed my time as president of Campus Kitchens. It has opened so many opportunities in terms of ways I can give back to the community,” Bandaru said. “I have been able to connect with so many driven and passionate individuals who care about their community, and I enjoy giving these individuals a platform to make a difference.”

There are still many spots available for students who would like to volunteer with CKP this semester.

The organization is especially looking for drivers at the moment. Sign-ups for food packaging shifts can be found on CKP’s Engage page at gatech.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/the-campus-kitchen-project.