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The Food of Community -- Monthly Dinner Free and Open to All

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
October 31, 2007

“For it is only in company that eating is done justice; food must be divided and distributed if it is to be well received.” Walter Benjamin (1892–1940)

On the second Friday of the month, every month, a group of volunteers gather at the Waysmeet Center and show that they know about doing justice to eating. Since the fall of 2005, the students have been coming together to host community meals for those in need.

The vegan and vegetarian dinners are aimed at providing good, simple food while promoting sustainability and community. In September 2005, about 50 meals were served. At February dinner, that number had more than doubled. This year organizers expect to feed more than 800 people.

The dinners evolved from earlier outreach efforts to residents of Forest Park, many of whom were married students with children living on a meager budget. Then, in the summer of 2005, members of the UNH Organic Garden Club and volunteers at Cornucopia, the campus food pantry, got talking about ways they could marry their efforts. Cornucopia, located in the ground floor at Christensen Hall, provides food and other support to UNH students, staff, faculty and their families.

Three students—undergraduate Mark Joseph (’06) and graduate students Bill Erikkson and Lauren Buyofsky (also ’06 and both past presidents of the Organic Garden Club) are credited with launching the monthly meal program. It’s now co-sponsored by the garden club, Cornucopia, and the Waysmeet Center.

In season, most of the food comes from the organic garden. The United Campus Ministry, Cornucopia and the Student Government Activity fee also help with donations of food and money. The Seacoast bakery Me and Ollie's often gives bread, and local families and students sometimes contribute food as well.

For the most part, students prepare the meals; between 15 and 20 volunteer each month. In April, the community dinners and the Organic Garden Club were awarded the Community Service Award from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

“We have a lot of community volunteers, too,” says Rev. Larry Brickner-Wood, campus minister and executive director of the United Campus Ministry. “We have families come with kids of all ages. Some people will drop off a dessert or as salad. It’s a wonderful coming-together of support.”

In addition to filling a need, the community dinners try to promote sustainability, Brickner-Wood says. Food that isn’t grown in the organic garden is bought from local farmers or at the Durham Market Place, where they buy either local or organic.

“Not only is this helping others but it’s connecting the community with sustainability,” Brickner-Wood says. “It’s just wonderful, the potpourri that goes into that.”

Donations of food, money and volunteers’ time are always welcome, Brickner-Wood says, adding, “We still have work to do to make sure people who are in need get a good meal.”

The community dinners are held the second Friday of the month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The next one will take place Friday, Nov. 9. The Waysmeet Center is located at 15 Mill Road across from parking lot C.

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