Campus Changemaker: Caroline Leonard

Post Contributed by Taylor Kraabel, Office of Sustainability Employee Engagement Coordinator

Caroline Leonard has successfully climbed the Auburn University career ladder. She began working as a student employee seven years ago, eventually landing a job in the Office of the Registrar as a Transcript Evaluator. Last month, she officially transitioned from this role to an Admissions Advisor for Auburn’s Graduate School. Caroline appreciates the opportunity to continue pursuing her professional goals with the Auburn family. 

Getting Involved with the Peers Network

Caroline Leonard
Caroline Leonard

Caroline’s first memory of sustainability stems from her childhood in Dothan, AL. Growing up, she and her family would bring their recycling to the local recycling plant and sort it. Since then, she has always had an interest in incorporating sustainability into her personal routine. Whether it’s conscious purchasing or volunteering for Auburn’s Green Game, Caroline says she is always open to new sustainability practices. Recently, she desires to apply this perspective to her professional life with the Peers Network. 

Since the Office of the Registrar and the Office of Sustainability are neighbors on campus, Caroline says she first heard about the Peers Network after meeting some of our full-time staff. After learning more about the program, Caroline was excited to get more involved. Although she considers herself a “beginner” in sustainability, she already practices many sustainable habits, such as using a reusable water bottle.

Since becoming a Peers Ambassador, Caroline’s favorite part has been meeting others from different departments who share her interest. Looking toward the future, she is excited to work with the Peers Network and Office of Sustainability to learn more about how she can make her workplace more sustainable.

 Working Toward Change

Currently, Auburn’s Graduate School building, Hargis Hall, is already participating in some actions that support sustainability. For instance, Caroline says a Weagle Water station was just installed in the building. Hargis also houses bins for paper, plastic and ink cartridge recycling. As an office, Caroline says they try to reduce wasted energy and water as much as possible, never leaving lights on in empty rooms and reporting things like leaky faucets right away. It is simple actions such as these that open the door to other sustainability practices. 

Speaking of new practices, one of Caroline’s goals is to cut down the waste generated by meetings and events in the Graduate School. Currently, meetings often involve printed agendas, surplus food, disposable utensils, and other items that could be replaced or modified with sustainable alternatives. For example, emailing meeting agendas instead of printing them is just one way to decrease paper consumption. There are also a few options to divert excess food from the landfill. Whether it’s through Campus Kitchens, the Share Meals app, or just encouraging employees to take home leftovers, decreasing food waste is a great way to be sustainable. Caroline plans to explore these potential change campaigns and others to determine what would work best in Hargis Hall. 

Sustainability Challenges and Inspiring Initiatives  

Like many others who have gotten involved in sustainability, Caroline realizes that one of the greatest challenges to sustainability is the growing immensity of the problem. She thinks often times people get intimidated and pessimistic about the more dire aspects, such as climate change. In other words, the classic “I’m only one person I can’t make a difference” mindset. Consequently, Caroline says this makes it much more difficult to find a place to get started with sustainability. What problem do we tackle first? Is what I’m doing actually helping? Fortunately, people like Caroline are determined to push through the immensity and uncertainty, knowing that one person CAN make a difference in sustainability. 

At Auburn, Caroline’s favorite sustainability initiatives are Campus Kitchens and some of Tiger Dining’s practices. As of now, Tiger Dining has a commitment to procure 20% of our food from within the state of Alabama and/or a 200-mile radius. This initiative addresses every piece of the Sustainability Compass: Nature, Economy, Society, and Wellbeing. Through this commitment, Auburn is supporting local agriculture, reducing its carbon footprint, providing healthier food and improving local society. On a similar note, Campus Kitchens aims to reduce Auburn’s food waste while helping those who are food insecure, addressing all sides of the compass as well. While these are by far not the only sustainability initiatives at Auburn, Caroline is inspired by how these efforts are able to address so many issues. As a Peers Ambassador, Caroline hopes to learn more about programs such as these and how to successfully incorporate them into the Graduate School. 

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Tiger Dining and Campus Kitchens Partner to Reduce Food Waste

Post contributed by Katie Peters, Marketing Assistant, Tiger Dining

Tiger Dining seeks to handle the food served on campus in the most sustainable and responsible way possible, from the beginning to end of the food service process. Our associates are reminded during food preparation to reduce food waste with our “Waste Not” reduction program which allows our associates to track, measure and reduce the amount of food waste by placing any food scraps into measurable containers.

Through a five year partnership with The Campus Kitchens Project, any unused food is donated from venues across campus. It is then portioned into meals for local churches, missions, and food insecure people in our area. Campus Kitchen Projects averages about 200-250 meals every week which has a huge impact on the community and lowers the amount of food waste being transported to the landfill.

Student Volunteers at banquet
Student volunteers with Campus Kitchens pose with attendees of the annual banquet.

Tiger Dining also supports Campus Kitchen Projects with annual banquets for local residents of Assisted Living Facilities. Senior Executive Chef Emil says, “We enjoy giving them the opportunity to have a special night on campus with great food and fellowship.”

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Going Beyond the Meal to Break the Cycle

Post contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern

“Food alone will never end hunger.”

These words spoken by Mike Curtin, Chief Operating Officer of DC Central Kitchen and Alex Moore, Chief Development Officer of The Campus Kitchens Project, resonated with me over the three-day Boot Camp I attended in early August. Traveling to Washington, DC for the conference was an opportunity for myself and fellow student leader Ginny Lampkin to represent Auburn’s Campus Kitchen and learn more to expand our operations in the local community.

Kenzley and Ginny help out in an urban garden during the DC Central Kitchen Boot Camp

DC Central Kitchen is a national nonprofit organization working to end the cycle of poverty and hunger through various programs, such as culinary classes for unemployed individuals and development of grocery stores stocked with healthy options in food deserts. The Campus Kitchens Project (CKP), one of the programs under DC Central Kitchen, focuses more specifically on reducing food waste and ending food insecurity. This work is done in large part by CKP chapters in over 60 schools around the country. The Campus Kitchen at Auburn runs as an entirely student-led project where volunteers pickup food from campus dining halls, package that food into nutritious meals, and distribute the meals to more than 10 community organizations in the Auburn/Opelika area.

Although it may seem counterintuitive at first, the idea that ending hunger requires more than food is actually very true. In my time working with CKP, and especially at CKP Boot Camp this year, I’ve thought a lot about this idea and come to better understand the connection between poverty and hunger. While all aspects of CKP operations are important, and providing meals each day to those in need is making a big difference in the lives of those individuals, Mike Curtin’s statement that “No matter how many meals we serve today, people will still be hungry tomorrow,” speaks for itself. If we want to end the cycle of hunger and poverty, we have to move beyond the meal. Should we at CKP stop delivering meals or as a society stop giving out food in soup kitchens? Absolutely not. However, we need to move beyond food distribution to address a daily need, and also focus on solving the roots of the problem.

Auburn’s CKP has been focusing on moving beyond the meal through development of new programs, outreach events, and educational components. Last fall we hosted a film screening of “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story” to educate the community about the billions of pounds of food thrown away each year. This year we will be partnering with East Alabama Services for the Elderly (EASE House) in a new initiative focusing on nutrition education and anti-isolation in the senior population. Our goal as a group has become larger than saving food from being thrown into the landfill by redistributing it. Ultimately, we want the work of CKP to do more than provide food to hungry people; we want to help break the cycle between poverty and hunger.


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Fighting Food Waste and Feeding People: More Than Just a Motto

Post contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern

Like many college students, I’m often told the importance of getting involved on campus in order to make connections and build a resume. Last year in early January, I thought about this advice and decided to take heed by searching AU Involve, Auburn’s online directory of all student organizations. I have always been passionate about the environment and sustainability, so I focused my search on these themes. While Auburn has many opportunities in this area, one group in particular caught my attention- The Campus Kitchens Project. I had never heard of the organization before but “fighting hunger and food waste” definitely seemed like a club I would be interested in. After attending a meeting and volunteering at a couple of weekly shifts, I could already see the positive impact made by Campus Kitchens and couldn’t wait to get more involved.

Photo of students packaging meals.
Students work together to package balanced meals for distribution in the community.

The Campus Kitchens Project focuses on eliminating food waste and fighting food insecurity by donating unserved food to community members in need. In the United States, 40% of food is wasted each year, while 1 in 6 people don’t know where their next meal will come from. The Campus Kitchens Project strives to fight these startling statistics in student-powered initiatives focused on strengthening bodies, empowering minds, and building communities. This academic year, 53 schools across the nation have a Campus Kitchens Project running, with about 28,700 student volunteers involved.

At Auburn, this program has been developed into a student-led group offering volunteer opportunities in the form of three different kinds of shifts. Each week over 70 volunteer slots are open in 29 total shifts, each of which is led by a shift leader. At pickup shifts we go to Tiger Dining kitchens and pick up any extra food they have, which is then used in packaging shifts to assemble nutritious meals. Delivery shifts are responsible for distributing the food collected in the form of meals or entire pans, depending on the need of each community partner. Currently Auburn collects food from 8 campus dining locations and donates to 14 community partners, such as Our House, His Place, Salvation Army, Harbor House, Esperanza House, and Meals on Wheels.

One of my favorite aspects of working with Campus Kitchens is being involved with other students from all over campus to make changes in our local community. In Lee County, 18% of people are food insecure and the work done by Campus Kitchens is striving to make a difference. The individuals and community partners we serve are extremely grateful for the food they receive, and I’m humbled to be able to help through my work with Campus Kitchens. Interacting with the community has been a highlight for me because I enjoy meeting new people and making a difference for them in any way possible. Because I have always been very environmentally focused, I also appreciate that we can decrease the amount of food being thrown into a landfill by picking up food from dining halls. I find it appalling how much food can be wasted, either from students’ plates or from the kitchens, so it’s encouraging to fight against this food waste. In 2016, we recovered 14,136 pounds of food and served 11,109 meals! Looking at what our group did in just a single year is motivating and proves that the impact of our weekly works adds up quickly.

Photo of Kenzley Defler weighing food.
Kenzley works to weigh and record the food collected in preparation for packaging shifts.

In addition to recovering food to be given out, Campus Kitchens hosts several events throughout the year to involve and educate the Auburn community. For example, last fall we partnered with the Committee of 19 to show the documentary Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. This powerful film focused on a couple that only ate off of wasted food, i.e. food that would otherwise have been thrown away, for six months. The images shown of entire dumpsters filled with perfectly edible food that was being thrown out were shocking and eye opening. This documentary was a concrete visualization of the food waste problem being fought by Campus Kitchens.

One of my favorite events we hosted was a dinner banquet for EASE House. East Alabama Services for the Elderly focuses on providing life-sustaining services to senior citizens in Lee and Russell Counties. Last spring, Campus Kitchens partnered with Tiger Dining to plan a meal for some of the residents who came to Auburn’s campus for dinner. We helped set up and serve dinner to the residents and also got the chance to visit with them during the meal. Not only are events like this lots of fun, they provide a great way to interact with individuals in the community on a more personal level.

Since beginning to volunteer and becoming part of the leadership team of Auburn’s Campus Kitchens Project, I’ve learned so much about food waste and food insecurity and have seen the importance of breaking this cycle. It’s become a topic I’m passionate about and something I could see myself pursing in my future career. My involvement with the organization may have started out as an activity to put on a resume, however, it’s become so much more than that to me. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, and most importantly, the opportunities I’ve had to make a difference in the community through my work with the Campus Kitchens Project at Auburn.

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Waste Not, Want Not with Tiger Dining

Post Contributed by Gwen Ward, Administrative Assistant, Campus Dining

Students can get made to order food at many locations on campus.
Students can get made to order food at many locations on campus.

Let’s imagine…close your eyes and envision yourself seated at a large table sharing a meal with your family and friends.  The banquet table is piled high with mounds of mashed potatoes, large platters filled with an assortment of meats and vegetables, grandma’s famous fruit salad, and a dessert selection without compare.  You’ve eaten your fill, but the table is still laden with delectable fare.  What will happen with all that food?

Now let’s multiply this situation by a thousand.  Tiger Dining faces the challenge of feeding about 20,000 people every class day, and we implement programs along three phases of the food service process to ensure campus food is handled as responsibly as possible.

Food preparation is the first area where Tiger Dining works to minimize waste.  Trim Trax is a food waste reduction program used to track, measure and reduce the amount of food waste in our facilities on campus. By collecting food scraps in measurable containers, operational efficiency increases as food prep workers become more conscious about reducing food waste and its environmental impact.  As an example, coffee grounds from our coffee shops and restaurants are collected in five-gallon buckets which are then donated to a local charity and recycled into a nearby community garden. This not only eliminates food waste and landfill space but also provides vital nutrients to enrich local soil.

Repackaging un-served foods helps Campus Kitchens Project feed hunger community members.
Repackaging un-served foods helps Campus Kitchens Project feed hunger community members.

Serving food is the second area where Tiger Dining works diligently to minimize food waste. Many foods served in Tiger Dining locations are made to order.  Patrons order custom sandwiches and salads, eliminating the need to remove unwanted toppings or condiments.  This reduces a substantial amount of food waste.  Tiger Dining also serves food and drink in biodegradable and eco-friendly containers to help minimize the impact on landfills.

Finally, Tiger Dining is proud to partner with the Campus Kitchens Project to eliminate food waste in the third area of food service.  Food that has been prepared but not served is not thrown away!  This food is placed in containers and refrigerated at the end of each day. Campus Kitchens volunteers collect these containers on a regular basis.  These volunteers then safely store the food, and each week they repackage the food and deliver it to food insecure individuals within our local community.

So the next time you order your salad with extra green peppers but no onions, rest assured that you’re being a responsible consumer by leaving behind those breath-killers you’ll never eat.  And thank you, cause I like extra onions on mine!

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Sustainability in Action: Rachael Gamlin

Photo of Rachael Gamlin
Rachael Gamlin

Contributed by Alicia Valenti, Office of Sustainability Intern

Everywhere on Auburn’s campus, you can find students who are passionate about a wide variety of causes, and senior Rachael Gamlin is no exception. Growing up in Birmingham, she didn’t have much experience with Auburn until a college visit led her to fall in love with the university and the sense of family she discovered here. She committed to Auburn and at the start of her freshman year Rachael connected with students who helped her discover her niche among the many organizations around campus, and in the process realized her enthusiasm for sustainability.

Rachael jumped in and joined two food-focused groups: the Committee of 19 and the Campus Kitchens Project (AU KCP). The Committee of 19 focuses on advocacy for food policy change while Campus Kitchens works in the Auburn community to alleviate hunger by gathering, managing, and delivering unused food to those in need. Rachael has been actively involved in the leadership of both organizations.  She appreciates the strong sense of community she shares with other students and community partners who care about these issues as much as she does, and the direct, positive impact of their collective efforts.

While working with both organizations, Rachael began to see how food security is a sustainability issue.  Many of the issues Rachael and her colleagues work on help define sustainable food systems. A food system is sustainable when food is healthy and nutritious, grown in a safe and ecologically responsible way and as locally as possible, people who grow food make a living wage, and great effort is made to eliminate waste and provide sufficient food for everyone. Of all her accomplishments with these groups, Rachael is most proud of the teamwork that connects hunger and sustainability in order to make a lasting difference.

Rachael’s work with the Committee of 19 focuses on policy advocacy and educating others to help people in Alabama, especially right here in Lee County. She says that the group is hoping to get involved with a state-wide campaign to repeal the grocery sales tax.  Alabama is one of very few states that tax groceries.  The repeal campaign points out that it is a terribly regressive tax that has by far the largest impact on those who are least able to pay. The grocery tax is a big reason why low-income Alabamians pay twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the very wealthiest citizens of our state.  Another Committee of 19 project  is to work with local farmers to gather unharvested crops that can be donated rather than left in the field.

As for AU Campus Kitchens Project, one initiative is to reach out to fraternities and ask them to donate unused food from their individual kitchens. The AU CKP will also help the effort at local farms to glean unharvested crops.  AU CKP will receive some of the produce and be able to provide fresh vegetables throughout the year. The Auburn Campus Kitchen Project is hoping to expand both operations and distributions of food as there continues to be unmet need in the community.

There is much to be done to achieve food security and sustainable food systems, and student participation can make a big difference.  Of course, there are numerous obstacles to involvement.   Students are busy, it takes time to learn about issues, and it can be hard to choose a cause when there are so many worthwhile opportunities.  It can feel overwhelming.

Rachael is convinced there is an issue or a cause for every student who wants to become part of a group and make a difference.  Rachael recommends that students explore options around campus and identify issues they truly care about, because it’s far easier to get involved when you’re passionate about something.  She also advises that a good way to introduce people to issues is by meeting them where they are and encouraging them to make conscious changes in their personal lives.  For example small changes that can make a difference when it comes to food include: purchasing healthy, fresh, locally produced food whenever possible; making sure no food is wasted; and donating food to a food drive.

She says that when we all take these small steps in our personal lives, and join together with others to make a difference, we can accomplish great things.

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