Luther College's Cafeteria to Community Program provides food to those in need

Luther College is working to limit food waste and feed those in need through the return of the Cafeteria to Community Program. The program, which had been on hiatus from March 15 through Dec. 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic is back up and running.

Through the Cafeteria to Community Program, student coordinators work with dining services staff to package food that is labeled and delivered to three food pantries: Open Hands Food Pantry, Northeast Iowa Community Action and the Decorah Food Pantry. The program allows individuals and families to obtain healthy and nutritious meals at little to no cost. 

"This program allows for both student and community (pre-pandemic) volunteers to come together and give their time for those in need," said Olivia Helland, student leader of the program. 

While she is excited that the program is back up and running, the road to where they are today wasn't without hurdles.

"We had lots of ups and downs trying to navigate around the lack of student workers and volunteers due to safety precautions and our period of online classes. From what seemed like the ongoing battle of potential exposures that resulted in periods of quarantine, and shutdowns of pantries receiving our food, we were not able to pack and deliver as much as we would like and normally see," said Helland.  

Despite these obstacles, the program has put together 2,361 pounds of food as of March 30 and has a goal of getting 3,000 pounds of food into the community by the end of the year. While not at the usual scale, these contributions have been a great help to the community during an unprecedented time when many are struggling financially.

"The Decorah Food Pantry embodies our whole community’s conviction that every person who needs food should have it," said Steven Zittergruen with the Decorah Food Pantry. "Our partnership with Luther College helps us fulfill our mission in a way that reduces waste, gets volunteers involved and strengthens the relationship between the community and the college. This program just makes sense, and we’re grateful to Luther College for making it happen. Like anybody else, our clients often appreciate the convenience of having deliciously prepared food that just needs reheating." 

Since the beginning of the program six years ago, Luther's Cafeteria to Community Program has averaged around 12,000 pounds of food packaged every year. They also average 80 hours of volunteer work. 

In addition to helping food-insecure households, the effort keeps food out of the landfill.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 food was the largest single component of everyday trash, comprising an estimated 24% of all landfilled waste.

"Cafeteria to Community supports Luther's mission in ways that allow us to work in community both on and off campus. We provide service and care to others around us in times of need and we strive to make contributions for the greater good of our community, regarding land and sustainability attribution," said Helland.  

The Cafeteria to Community Program is always looking for more Luther student volunteers. Those interested can sign up online for a one hour slot on Wednesdays and Sundays from 6-7 p.m. or by contacting Olivia Helland at [email protected]

Luther College is home to more than 1,800 undergraduates who explore big questions and take action to benefit people, communities and society. Our 60+ academic programs, experiential approach to learning and welcoming community inspire students to learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime of impact. Learn more at luther.edu. 

Aimme Rothschild ‘24 works to package food to be donated to local food pantries