Food connects us all. It’s a way to express yourself, connect with others, grow and maintain health, among other things. But in the United States and around the world, there are far too many people without access to food.
In October, President Biden announced an effort to address this “food insecurity” in the United States, through a variety of investments, initiatives and programs. Its lofty goal is to eradicate hunger in the country by 2030.
Saint Louis University is already waging this battle throughout the community; both on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods, providing access to food for students, Midtown residents, and those without housing.
One such initiative for students is Billiken Bounty. Billiken Bounty directly serves the SLU community, as students can visit the on-campus pantry and receive fresh produce, non-perishable items, hygiene products, food accessories and more. The pantry is run entirely by student volunteers, who manage the organization’s budget, shop for groceries, stock the pantry, and manage the pantry when it is open.
Maxine Taylor, Co-Chair of Billiken Bounty, has been involved with the organization since its first year and has witnessed the impact of food insecurity.
“I learned about food insecurity in a very abstract way in my classes,” Taylor said. “But Billiken Bounty hosted an event in my dorm, and it was a chance for me to have a positive impact on my own community. I had learned how food insecurity can have such a big impact on people’s health. someone, both now and in the future, and it was a perfect opportunity to get involved in my community and make a positive difference.
Billiken Bounty relies on donations for a large portion of this budget. Throughout the school year, students, faculty, and staff can donate food items to the pantry, and the organization also hosts food drives at various times each semester. It also accepts monetary donations, which are used to cover transportation and grocery costs.
Students may be food insecure for a variety of reasons. In addition to economic hardship, students may not have access to transportation to get groceries or have too much course/work load to be able to cook. Billiken Bounty also sees many international students and graduates visiting the pantry, citing language barriers, cultural differences and unfamiliarity with local food sources as factors contributing to their food insecurity.
“We see the pantry primarily used by graduate students because they don’t have access to the same meal plan as undergraduates,” Taylor said. “Others may have limited time due to work or kids, or maybe St. Louis is just a brand new city for them and they don’t yet know how to access resources. . So we’re always open-minded and ready to provide anything anyone might need, and we want to make Billiken Bounty as welcoming as possible.
Currently, Billiken Bounty restocks its shelves once every two weeks and receives pre-prepared meal deliveries once a week. Unfortunately, the need for the pantry and its products is higher.
“Everyone is always very thankful and very thankful when they come to Billiken Bounty,” Taylor said. “What I’m really proud of is that we try to stock the pantry with foods that are useful for students and foods that students really want to cook and eat. We want to make sure that whenever someone comes to Billiken Bounty, they can take home food they will enjoy.
With food and other products going to students within days and even hours of being on the shelves, the Billiken Bounty has also worked to provide and connect students to other services to enable students in dire straits. food insecure to get the help they need. The Billiken Bounty connects students to a shuttle that runs every weekend, taking students from campus to various nearby grocery stores for free, allowing them to shop without needing their own transportation. It also contains resources to help students apply for food stamps, recipe guides to help students prepare healthy meals with what they currently have in their pantry and fridge, and more.
“Yes, we have a list of external resources that students can use,” Taylor said. “We have information on other food banks and pantries and also on how to apply for food stamps in Missouri if you are eligible. We have exit surveys for students to complete, and one resource that we found many students lacked was transportation, which led to their food insecurity. So we have information on how to access weekend shuttles to Brentwood malls for groceries or other errands. We have also tried to focus on providing information on external resources. »
While addressing food insecurity within its direct community, SLU is also dedicated to providing for those outside of its campus boundaries, and it does so through Campus Kitchen.
Campus Kitchen is another student-run organization that prepares meals at Reinert Hall and then delivers those meals to residents of Midtown and various shelters in the surrounding area. Each year, more than 3,000 volunteers dedicate their time to food preparation, cooking, baking, packaging or delivering 500 meals to the surrounding community each week.
Nikhil Samayam, President of Campus Kitchen, joined the organization during his first semester at SLU and is continually impressed with the impact the organization is making each week.
“It’s really more than just delivering a meal,” Samayam said. “Every time you make a delivery, you build relationships with community members. You let them know that this organization is actively trying to help in any way possible, and the best way to do that is through meals. Seeing the joy and appreciation on the face of every member of our community underscores why we are doing this.
Campus Kitchen receives all of its meal ingredients from a variety of sources; companies such as Trader Joe’s; Sodexo, which supplies all of SLU’s canteens; of St. Louis Area Foodbank and other student-run organizations. Campus Kitchen also accepts individual donations throughout the year and hosts its annual Turkeypalooza food drive before Thanksgiving.
Through all of these outlets, Campus Kitchen receives up to 1,500 pounds of supplies from these organizations to create meals for deliveries each week. Every pound of food accepted by Campus Kitchen is considered surplus, which means the food is undamaged, but unfit for sale due to damage to packaging, imperfections, or other reasons.
“Our mission is to eliminate food waste, and in return we will eliminate hunger,” Samayam said. “How much food can we collect from organizations and how can we prevent it from being wasted? We try to reuse this food and make meals out of it so that those who have no food can have a chance at a healthy and nutritional life.
Not only do these meals provide a healthy lifestyle for community members, but they also provide them with a stable food environment. Twice a week, SLU students bring them meals, creating days when community members don’t have to worry or wonder how they will eat, and will save them resources to support themselves. their needs and those of their families on other days of the week.
“Members of our community can expect meals to arrive on certain days of the week, and they rely on that,” Samayam said. “Whether it’s a school week, mid-summer or vacation, we always prepare a meal because hunger doesn’t wait until the next working day. We really try to emphasize consistency with our members, that we deliver it at the same time every week, every week.
Each meal consists of four categories: protein, vegetables, starches and desserts, and they aim to cover all the major food groups that a person needs for a balanced diet, allowing them to get the nutrition they don’t. might not have the opportunity to get otherwise.
“A lot of times the word food desert gets thrown around, but the area around SLU is more of a food swamp,” Samayam said. “If you’re on a budget, like many in our local community, there’s a swamp of food options that may be within your budget, but aren’t necessarily the healthiest. This is what Campus Kitchen tries to eliminate. We try not to just give them food, because some already have access to it. We try to give them access to healthy food.
Campus Kitchen began at SLU in 2001 and has since expanded to over 60 other college campuses around the kitchen. Organizing is why Samayam decided to attend SLU in the first place, and since joining he has become even more involved due to the impact he is able to have on the wider community. of SLU.
“Cooking was my way of showing that I cared about people,” Samayam said. “I always find that sharing a meal with someone is one of the most thoughtful things you can do to show someone, quite simply, that you care. Because cooking is a process that takes time and a labor of love. Being able to share this love with members of the SLU community is an incredible reward and my way of leaving my mark on SLU and St. Louis.
SLU’s mission is to care for the whole person. For Saint-Louis, the whole person means all people. Food insecurity affects us all, directly or indirectly.
SLU students created Billiken Bounty and Campus Kitchen to provide one of the necessities and be men and women for others.