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FAYETTEVILLE -- Two years ago, Helen Chen attended a first-of-its-kind national gathering for college students interested in food recovery, with others from the University of Arkansas.

By that time, UA's law school had established its Food Recovery Project. The informational effort helps groups understand how federal law encourages the gathering for reuse of food that would otherwise be thrown away.

But students like Chen were just beginning volunteer efforts to reduce food waste on the UA campus. Their visit to Northwestern University, near Chicago, offered a chance to learn about food recovery at other universities.

On Saturday and Sunday, the roles will be reversed. College students from across the country will be at UA for the 2016 Food Waste & Hunger Summit hosted by the Washington-based The Campus Kitchens Project.

Along with listening to speakers from the food industry -- including Tyson Foods, which has donated more than $250,000 to support UA hunger-related initiatives -- nonprofits and government, students also will hear Chen talk about ways volunteers at UA recover food for reuse almost daily.

Five days each week, students at Brough Dining Hall and Pomfret Dining Hall package leftovers to be given to community partners, including homeless shelters in Fayetteville. Volunteers also recover some food from UA's student union and have worked with Greek organizations to reuse leftovers from their kitchens and events.

"We have expanded a lot, and our group is much bigger than I expected it to be," said Chen, who earned a degree in accounting from UA in December.

The program recovered 3,547 pounds of food in February, compared with 1,241 pounds in the same month last year, said Claire Allison, a program coordinator with UA's Center for Community Engagement. About 70 students have volunteered with Razorback Food Recovery this semester, she said.

About 240 people are expected at the weekend conference. Most are arriving from various colleges, but others are from nonprofit hunger groups or the business world. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will deliver a keynote address Saturday.

Nationally, "a growing number of campuses are engaging in some form of food recovery," said Laura Toscano, director of The Campus Kitchens Project.

The matter relates to concerns about previous unsuccessful efforts to fight food instability, Toscano said. For one, hunger as a problem for college students "is just beginning to get the attention that it deserves," Toscano said.

UA's Campus Hunger Initiative includes the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry, which began in 2011 and has expanded as a source of food for students and staff members, Allison said.

In October, UA student leaders discussed the basics of food recovery and pantry programs with students from other campuses, Allison said. Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have started independent hunger-related initiatives this academic year.

Another campus, Arkansas Tech University, is affiliated with The Campus Kitchens Project, which now helps 51 schools with food recovery efforts. Campuses pay the organization $1,200 yearly for guidance and expertise, as well as access to grant opportunities, Toscano said.

Toscano described growing financial support. Among other donors, the Walmart Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant in January to expand her group's efforts and help pay for the event this weekend.

The conference remains mostly about students, though Toscano said many will arrive at the conference without yet having started food recovery efforts.

"More and more students are aware of it," Toscano said. "I think we still certainly have a ways to go. I wouldn't say most campuses are doing it yet."

NW News on 04/15/2016

Print Headline: UA visitors focus on food recovery

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