Tackling Hunger: Here's Hoping This Nonprofit Goes Out of Business

The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) might very well be the perfect nonprofit.  And I sincerely hope it will put itself out of business. 

Campus Kitchens is the national outgrowth of DC Central Kitchen, a program I founded in 1989 to recycle food and fight poverty in our nation's capital. At its core, it's based on a very simple idea: that you can take existing resources (food, people, money, facilities) and re-organize them to feed more people, better food, for less money... while also shortening the soup-kitchen line by training men and women for culinary jobs. Since opening, we've delivered over 25 million meals and helped hundreds of men and women get great jobs and become self-sufficient.

In 2001, I stumbled across a new high school in rural Indiana. I realized that this school had a full kitchen, which was closed afternoons, nights and weekends. Students at that school were required to perform service hours -- yet they had to leave school to get those hours.  Meanwhile, local food businesses and farmers were throwing away good food, while neighbors and families were going to bed hungry.

Those simple observations led to the formation of Campus Kitchens, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary.  Now, students on 31 campuses across the country use their kitchens to recover unused food and prepare meals for neighbors in need.  Every month, CKP teams take 18 tons of food that would be unnecessarily thrown out to provide 37,000 healthy meals.

This week, an all-star line up of food revolutionaries from chefs Alice Waters and Jose Andres to AmpleHarvest.org founder -- and 2011 Huff Post Game Changer -- Gary Oppenheimer have joined Campus Kitchens to help lead us into our next decade.  Why?

Because hunger in America is worse than when we started.  In 2010, roughly one in seven U.S. households were considered "food insecure" -- the highest number ever recorded. 

As a country, we have to own this.  Live it.  Breathe it.  Do something about it.  As Gen. George Patton once said, "We have to fight the enemy with the utmost audacity."

To do that, we must take the same tools, but use different tactics.

Campus Kitchens wants to show how we can combine students needing service hours, seniors who want to remain active and engaged, social enterprise, locally sourced foods, community gardens, school cafeterias... and good old-fashioned American ingenuity to completely redesign the system.

We see intergenerational garden programs and after-school mentoring projects.

We see school-based cooking programs preparing locally sourced meals for seniors, or developing meals-to-go for working moms as a way to raise funds to offset cuts in the school budgets.

We see cafeteria kitchens as learning labs, where we teach math, science and nutrition to a generation hungry for different ways to learn.

But more importantly, we want to inspire the next generation of leaders. 

Nonprofits like Campus Kitchens -- completely student-run from meal planning to preparation and delivery -- demonstrate the power of a generation 90 million strong and raised doing service.  I believe those running Campus Kitchens today will push themselves and this country to tackle problems like hunger, homelessness and poverty... not with charity, but with audacious ideas about how food, time, money, commerce and community can be used in different ways to achieve powerful, lasting results.

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