By Aaron Cox/UGA Today
Healthy food for healthcare workers. That’s a new initiative for the University of Georgia’s Campus Kitchen program, which has expanded its operations during the COVID-19 crisis to provide nutritious snacks and quick meals for employees at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. Every Tuesday for the past three weeks, Shannon Brooks has loaded her car with a variety of quick meals—trays of veggies, hummus, cheese, fresh chips and salsa, prepared by employees at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel—to deliver to the hospital. The prepared platters of food are meant to provide hospital staff — everyone from ICU nurses to the cleaning crew — with an energy boost while also serving as a “thank you” for their hard work. “It just seems like the more we can support our health care workers, that to me is the point of your whole community,” said Brooks, director of the Office of Service-Learning, which houses Campus Kitchen, a student-run food program for food insecure families in Athens. “We just want them to know that UGA is in it with them. We honestly just do it out of concern for their well-being, because they’re certainly working for ours right now.” The coronavirus pandemic has led to a flurry of partnerships in Athens, with UGA working alongside other public organizations and the private sector to address food insecurity throughout the community. Campus Kitchen is sending its excess food to Manny Stone, director of the culinary arts program at the Athens Community Career Academy. He is partnering with Athens chef Peter Dale to cook meals and provide groceries to Clarke County School District employees and Athens food service workers who have recently become unemployed. Campus Kitchen also is providing weekly meals to three families served by the Athens Area Homeless Shelter. “Our goal right now is to make sure any food we receive finds a home in a food assistance program or goes to workers like health care workers who need food to come to them,” Brooks said. The food deliveries to Piedmont Athens Regional began after Brooks learned that the increasing workloads for the center’s staff was making it harder for them to break away to get to the cafeteria. “A lot of these units, they don’t feel like they can leave the floor and go down to our cafeteria,” said Libby Hayes, senior human relations generalist at Piedmont Athens Regional. “So, the fact that we’re bringing food to them is just a game changer. The UGA group has just been phenomenal with what they’ve delivered. It’s absolutely kept our staff going. I can’t say enough positive things about how generous they’ve been.” Meals for Piedmont Athens Regional are being prepared by a skeleton crew operating Campus Kitchen without student volunteers, who are no longer on campus. About 10 Office of Service-Learning employees and volunteers have maintained the weekly program, providing prepared meals and bags of food to more than 50 local families, most of them grandparents raising their grandchildren. Other UGA units have added support. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia and UGArden provide fresh produce. Employees in the Office of Service-Learning pick up the produce and additional food donated by Trader Joe’s, Nothing Bundt Cakes and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and deliver it to the Georgia Center. There, Georgia Center food service employees prepare meals and trays of food in the center’s kitchen before it is stored in coolers at the UGArden for later delivery. “We’re only able to do this because we have the Campus Kitchen operation,” Brooks said. “It’s really because we have these new partnerships in place and we’re able to take on some requests that we’re getting from the community.” Luke Simmons, a special events chef at the Georgia Center, was eager to help health care workers in Athens after learning about his sister’s own food struggles while working as a nurse in South Georgia. “At the end of the day, you walk out of there feeling like you did something better than normal,” said Simmons, who creates the food trays delivered to Piedmont Athens Regional. “When you get done [working] a banquet, you’re glad everyone is happy and fed, but this is actually helping the community. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” If you would like to join Campus Kitchen in serving families in our community during this time, a gift of any size will have an impact and be gratefully received.