Racing champion lends helping hand to Campus Kitchen

Campus Kitchen at UGA, a student service group that prepares meals for Athens grandparents raising grandchildren, received some high-profile volunteer help recently from NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

Together with local partners, including the Athens Community Council on Aging and the Talmage Terrace Senior Living Community, Campus Kitchen at UGA provides healthy meals to Athenians in need using fresh produce and collected excess food that would otherwise be wasted.

Gordon’s visit was part of AARP’s and AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger. Created in 2010 to raise awareness about older adult hunger, the program aims to develop long-term, sustainable solutions to the problem. In 2011, AARP became NASCAR’s first cause-based primary sponsor with Drive to End Hunger featured on the No. 24 Chevrolet driven by Gordon.

“These last three years have opened my eyes to the scope and impact of older adult hunger,” Gordon told an audience at ACCA. “We’re talking about people who in many cases did all the things they were supposed to do in life, but still wound up struggling to put food on the table, whether because of a serious illness, an economic setback or family issue. These are people who often prefer to help family members and put their loved ones first rather than ask for help themselves.”

Gordon helped student volunteers prepare meals. “Some things you don’t want to go too fast with,” he said jokingly as he chopped strawberries during the meal preparation. “I need my fingers.”

“I love what the Campus Kitchen at UGA is all about and what they’re doing here,” Gordon said. “These are future leaders in our communities and nation who have taken the time to do this.

“They weren’t just in there slicing up vegetables and food, they loved what they were doing-that’s a passion,” he said. “And that’s what it takes to be successful in business; that’s what it takes to be successful on the racetrack; and that’s what it takes to be successful in life.”

Gordon then helped deliver meals to two families in Athens. The recipients of a special delivery by the four-time NASCAR champion were Deanna Schmidt and Gail Brooks, participants of ACCA’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.

In the house with Schmidt and Brooks were Madeleine Schmidt, 18, Emma Brooks, 82, Brianna Gee, 8, and Brayden Gee, 5. Madeleine Schmidt said the children kept poking their heads up to look out the window, wondering why there were cameras following the people coming with their meals.

“It was interesting,” Madeleine Schmidt said. “The kids were so shocked to see Jeff Gordon.”

As he carried in a cooler containing their meals, Gordon told the excited family, “I’m not Jeff Gordon today, I’m just here delivering this on behalf of Campus Kitchen.”

The Campus Kitchen at UGA was established in 2010 through the Office of Service-Learning, which is jointly supported by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction and the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach.

More than 200 students volunteer with Campus Kitchen at UGA and perform tasks from meal preparation to waking up Sunday mornings to collect and sort more than 1,000 pounds of food that local grocery stores would otherwise throw away.

“In the United States-and I’ll put this in a term that all these Athenians will understand-we produce enough food waste to fill up Sanford Stadium every day,” said Sarah Jackson, outreach coordinator for Campus Kitchen at UGA. “At the same time, more than 9 million adults are at risk for hunger. Luckily, here at Georgia and across the nation, there are students who are here to do something about it.”

Campus Kitchen at UGA is part of The Campus Kitchens Project, a national network of 33 universities and schools that work together to combat hunger in their own communities. In 2013, AARP Foundation issued a grant to The Campus Kitchens Project to support the work of UGA’s kitchen and nine other Campus Kitchens that focus on addressing older adult hunger.

“The Campus Kitchens Project embodies the exact kind of work we wanted to support with Drive to End Hunger,” said AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins. “By engaging students to help collect, cook and deliver meals to older Americans in need, Campus Kitchens are not only helping put food on the table in the short term, but they’re also nurturing a new group of lifelong leaders who apply that passion and vision to helping others in their home communities after they graduate.”

“We are honored to partner with the AARP Foundation to address the growing problem of senior hunger,” said Laura Toscano, director of The Campus Kitchens Project. “This investment has empowered our Campus Kitchens, like the Campus Kitchen at UGA, to serve over 30,000 meals to older adults so far this year, and even more importantly, to work with our students to develop engaging programs that will address the underlying root causes of senior hunger, such as isolation, reduced mobility and lack of access to healthy food.”