"Most people think of Vermont as a predominantly white world of farmers," says Ashley Greenfield '13, a biology major who is also a cook and baker. "But come up to Burlington and it's a melting pot of cultures, people and languages. We get to see it all because we feed them all."
For four years, Greenfield spent Thursday afternoons and evenings making meals and mentoring young friends at the Winooski Teen Center through Baked Love, a program run through MOVE. "We cook whatever they want us to cook, anything from pizza to quesadillas to pasta."
Over her four years with Baked Love, Greenfield and her fellow volunteers made it their business to creatively acquire, prepare and share food in a variety of ways, whether it was making lasagna for a newly arrived immigrant family, baking loaves of bread for elderly neighbors or turning out batches of cookies for local school kids or service organizations.
"We like cookies. That's our biggie," Greenfield says. "We're big on oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies." This year, she and seven Baked Love regulars also cooked two family meals each month to deliver, she says, "but then we also do 'appreciation bakes' - usually cookies - for organizations in the community like Ronald McDonald House or a Cancer Patient Center, or the Committee on Temporary Shelter or fire, rescue and safety workers. We're making sure the community gets thanked for what they're doing."
To Greenfield, "the main thing is to be present for others, giving back what we've taken from the community."
Baked Love began in 2008 when Meghan Kerrigan '11 joined an extended service trip through the college to a Baltimore food-relief station. One day, after serving, she was "disgusted" by huge bags filled with donated bread that were going to waste for lack of a slicer or adequate manpower to slice it.
"So after our shift as servers, some of us took the bags of bread and just walked around the neighborhood handing it out to moms coming out of school, dads coming out of Dunkin' Donuts." It made Kerrigan realize how much food waste goes on every day in America and how welcome a grassroots food outreach might be.
Back in Vermont she and friends began visiting local restaurants or stores, seeking whatever food they had to give away that might otherwise go to waste. "It very quickly made me think about a program for St. Mike's that could provide meals by trying to be creative with what was handed to us," she says.
From the start, Baked Love has gone well beyond just baking. As students collected food, Kerrigan says, they would keep non-perishables in stock "and when we got perishables, we'd say, 'who wants to get together and make a meal?' and then we'd deliver it to a local family."
"The turnout was amazing from students whenever we'd put out the call," Kerrigan says, "and soon I had developed a model that had one aspect involving just quick drop-offs, spur-of-the-moment things like bread delivery; and then the meal part, which was very structured."
As a Saint Michael's student, Kerrigan traveled to India and Ghana for service trips, which "really raised my awareness that food waste is unacceptable." The goal of Baked Love was and remains "to bring food relief and share the excess resources in our community - it's out there, so why not share it?" she says.
Kerrigan, an elementary education and anthropology graduate, is now a social worker in the Burlington area and still occasionally links Baked Love and potential clients. Anna Jantsch '13, Kerrigan's first recruit and a first-year student when Kerrigan was a senior, became the group's leader after Kerrigan graduated, keeping interest at a high enough level to sustain the program. Supplies and funds for Baked Love efforts come from the MOVE budget with some food donations from the Sodexho kitchen in Alliot or the campus farmer's market/community garden. The Center for Women and Gender provides a kitchen that Baked Love students use regularly to prepare meals.
Baked Love has three juniors ready to take up leadership in the fall.