500 Meals in a Day

Chili, corn bread, slaw and apple crisp. Preparation began at UNC Asheville’s teaching kitchen before 8 a.m. on Oct. 23, and it took many teams of students, faculty and community volunteers to meet the goal of preparing 500 meals to donate to the hungry in honor of Food Day. For the volunteers, it was a day of cooking, not eating, and a partnership effort by UNC Asheville and Lenoir-Rhyne University.

One destination for the food was the Veterans Restoration Quarters (VRQ) program at ABCCM (Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry) which serves more than 200 veterans. “We contacted the chef there, Eric Cox, and told him that we would have this much chili and he was so grateful to be getting it,” said Flori Pate, founder of Food Connection, UNC Asheville’s community partner in distributing the university’s excess food to reduce hunger in the community.

The day’s effort was emblematic of what happens behind the scenes every day at UNC Asheville’s Brown Hall, where roughly 100 pounds of leftover food is chilled and packed for delivery by Food Connection to area service agencies.

And the day was structured to have even more meaning for those involved, with lasting lessons about nutrition and the environment, as well as community involvement and service. Amy Lanou, UNC Asheville chair and professor of health and wellness, involved her students in the project, and she says, “In addition to cooking, they also provided nutritional analysis of all the recipes which are sent to the sites where the food will be served. The idea is not just free food for people who need it, but free, healthy, delicious food at low cost – even if we had to purchase all the ingredients, the per-meal cost would be low. And now the students know they can cook these things.”

Students and community volunteers rotated in and out of the Sherrill Center teaching kitchen all day, some bringing additional ingredients to donate. The group energy was high as a few members of the women’s soccer team, students in Lanou’s class, chopped onions for the chili. “We’re helping out the community and it’s fun to be a part of a group coming together to do that,” said Paige Trent, a psychology major who had scored the winning goal for the Bulldogs two days earlier. “As women’s soccer players, we like helping out – we don’t just do sports.”

photo collage of students cookingSarah Smith, a psychology and sociology double-major, is also a student in Lanou’s class. “This is a required course for me, but I have to say, this is information I will take with me the rest of my life and share with my family,” she said. “My cooking has already been influenced.”

Lanou worked together with Lauren Brady, RD, LDN, dietetic internship coordinator at Lenoir-Rhyne University, to create the healthy, plant-based menu and coordinate the cooking. Brady and three Lenoir-Rhyne graduate dietetic interns worked alongside the UNC Asheville students.

The results were heart-warming to Buzz Durham, a Food Connection volunteer and a veteran, who helped deliver the meals to the VRQ. “Where this food is going today to the veterans, diabetes is such a huge issue, so for them to be able to get some nutritious food is a big deal,” said Durham. “This is different from the food loaded with carbs that is often donated to food banks and food pantries.”

All of the ingredients were also donated, with Chartwells, which operates UNC Asheville’s dining services, donating all of the corn meal, flour, spices, oil, canned tomatoes and more. “It’s part of our responsibility to our community,” said Emily Williams, senior director of dining services. “We’re not only raising awareness through this event, we’re able to bring students together in an uplifting event where people can contribute.”

The other ingredients were all donated by faculty, staff and students, and many of the vegetables were grown in local gardens, including UNC Asheville’s own Roots Garden. Lanou put out a call for food donations 10 days earlier and was overwhelmed at the response, which continued with bags of apples and onions coming in even as the cooking was underway. “When I walked in yesterday morning and saw 16 cabbages waiting, it brought tears to my eyes,” Lanou said. “People have stepped up. It says something about our community and it shows that people are very, very concerned about food insecurity. I want to thank everyone who participated in one way or another.”