During the COVID-19 pandemic, already food insecure populations were plunged further into precarity as shipping and manufacturing interruptions nearly halted the industrialized food system in the U.S., raising interests in alternative food systems. Due to the pandemic, college students attended classes online, further reducing social interaction. Our research investigates the benefits of student involvement with the Campus Kitchen at the University of Kentucky (CKUK), a student-led sustainability-focused organization striving to reduce food waste and improve nutrition equity through meal assistance, resources, and community empowerment. Data were collected via ten semi-structured interviews and participant observation of CKUK student volunteers and leaders. Participants reported that benefits of involvement with CKUK extended beyond free food, including a sense of community and opportunities for social justice. This replicable organization model practices alternative food systems founded on elements of community building and equity, creating a resource for their community that can withstand disasters.

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