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UGA program addresses food insecurity in Athens

At a recent event hosted by City of Refuge, 10 fellows packed 1,200 bags for students who are dealing with food insecurity. (Photo by Wes Mayer)

By Kristen Linthicum

Many people in the Athens community are facing food insecurity, and they are served by organizations dedicated to addressing their significant need. The University of Georgia’s Office of Service-Learning (OSL) has established longstanding partnerships with community organizations to help address food insecurity in Athens.

“Food insecurity has been an identified need for a long time, but we saw an increased need during the pandemic that has continued,” said Josh Podvin, OSL’s assistant director for community partnerships. “We think it is a priority to commit staff time to address this ongoing need in our community.”

Food Fellows show off sweet potatoes grown in the UGArden. (Photo by Coleman Allums)

In 2023, OSL launched the AmeriCorps Community Food Fellows program to further support these organizations. Leveraging federal AmeriCorps funding, the program has 20 part-time fellows who devote 900 hours of service to local organizations over the course of a year. Seventeen of the fellows are full-time UGA students.

Fellows spend their fall semester serving as many organizations as possible and, in the following spring and summer, are imbedded in specific organizations as interns.

“This program is one of the most rewarding things I’ve seen because you can see the impact almost immediately,” said Coleman Allums, the Community Food Fellows program coordinator. “It’s exciting, and the fellows have a genuine love of doing this work.”

Since the program began in September, the 20 fellows have connected with organizations across the Athens community, serving daily meals at Our Daily Bread, harvesting food at UGArden, packing meals with Campus Kitchen, and delivering meals to families served by the Athens Community Council on Aging. They have provided administrative support, volunteer service and event assistance to groups like the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, Farm to Neighborhood, Downtown Academy and the West Broad Farmers Market.

“Each fellow’s experience is different. You get to make it what you want it to be,” said Camille Weindorf, a senior at UGA and a Community Food Fellow. “At our weekly meetings, guests talk about food deserts and how much collaboration it takes to work together to address food insecurity. It takes everybody doing their part in different areas to meet the community need.”

Students participating in the Food Fellows program work in the UGArden. (Coleman Allums)

As a fellow, Weindorf has worked with UGArden, Clarke Central school garden, and the Northeast Georgia Food Bank. She participated in a December event hosted by City of Refuge, where 10 fellows packed 1,200 bags for students who are dealing with food insecurity.

In addition to traditional volunteer service, the fellows help organizations build capacity to expand. For example, the Marigold Collective—a nonprofit working to connect the Winterville and East Athens communities with fresh, affordable food as well as nutritional information—wanted to grow.

But the group didn’t have the staff or funding necessary for growth. The fellows volunteered time and skills to support the weekly Marigold Market and offered grant-writing and other administrative support. One fellow worked directly with farmers to harvest pecans, mow fields and assist as needed.

“The Marigold Collective has been an exciting partner. The fellows were able to help work for them to get them to self-sustainability,” Allums said. “We saw them recently get 501(c)(3) status. As I see them growing, I can see the work the food fellows did as factoring into that growth. They are the poster child for what this program can be—helping organizations achieve their goals while providing enriching, hands-on educational experiences for the fellows.”

Sarah Hovater, Marigold’s director, said that the fellows will help Marigold start a new program this January that will provide prepared meals to people living in East Athens. This winter and spring, fellows will continue to help with grant submissions, market setup and sales, and farming support.

“We are so happy to have the students working with us this semester,” Hovater said. “You can’t say enough for actual people willing to get dirty and work with you.”

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1 Comment

Growing food yourself by hand will do more to make you appreciate farmers than anything you can be "taught."

"Why do we need farmers? I get my food from the grocery store."

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