Campus Kitchen coordinator, Shelley Graves, is nearly incapable of wasting food, which makes her a good fit to lead the organization on campus responsible for redistributing dining and catering waste and channeling local food resources into the hands of those most in need. “I really like to eat, and I really like food. There are a lot of hotbeds for sustainable work, but food is the most essential resource. We all need to eat,” she said of her passion for food justice.
Graves, who received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Wake Forest, has a long history of involvement with various non-profit groups including Washington D.C. based organization, Brain Food, a program that teaches low-income high school students much needed cooking skills. Yet she had never worked with Campus Kitchen before becoming coordinator in the summer of 2009. The now national organization began in 1999 as a student driven service program at the university called Homerun.
Campus Kitchen has grown a lot as an organization since its grassroots conception at Wake Forest. Today students at 25 schools (including one high school) across the country volunteer to make sure that unserved excess food doesn’t end up in the landfill but in the stomachs of those in need. As part of her full-time position, Graves clocks a lot of hours in the field each week, supervising students during the academic year and sorting and delivering food herself during the summers.
The university’s branch of Campus Kitchen currently serves 8 partner groups from the city of Winston-Salem. Five receive catering and dining hall extras that are distributed directly through the facility. The other three receive produce, dairy, and breads from The Fresh Market to ensure that each family that visits the partner organization receives some healthy fresh foods for the week. Produce from the campus garden is also funneled into the Campus Kitchen distribution system.
While Graves finds the physical tasks of delivering the food to grateful families highly rewarding, she says the best part of her job is getting to work with students to help them blossom into new leaders. “I really think that is the only way to make any sort of large scale change toward sustainability. We help these kids become leaders and they become foot soldiers who educate their peers and help fight this fight,” she said.
Outside of work, Graves strives to take small steps toward sustainability herself. Her love of cooking encouraged her to start a garden which, she says “was a total failure. I guess that’s my dirty little secret. I really want to be a green thumb, but I’m a terrible gardener,” she said.
Not to be deterred, she buys almost all of her food locally during the growing season and hopes to start canning her own vegetables next year. She can also often be found scouring thrift stores and vintage shops for unique used clothing. “People don’t usually think to buy used clothing to live sustainably, but it makes a difference,” Graves said.
Caitlin Brooks, Outreach and Communications Intern