Northwestern Dining Provides 11,000 Meals to Local Community Members in Need

Compass Group and NU Dining present sustainable innovations at national conference to combat food insecurity on college campuses

EVANSTON, Illinois — Northwestern University Dining (NU Dining) has been donating surplus meals to Chicago-area nonprofits that feed the hungry and offering healthy solutions for students who are food insecure, officials said.

NU Dining along with Compass Group, powered by Chartwells Higher Education, delivered hot lunches and dinners to 2,200 students every day for two weeks as they observed a self-quarantine period at the start of the year. When Compass Group, which operates NU Dining, saw that not all meals were being claimed and consumed, they donated the meals, decreasing food waste, while providing meals for those in need.

“As members of the Northwestern community, we know how important it is to give back,” Jennifer Byrdsong, Compass’ Vice President of Dining Operations, said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear to us how lucky we all are to have food to eat. When we saw that there were hundreds of meals left over, we felt it imperative to launch a program of rapid food recovery.”

After the first lunch service left almost 500 unclaimed meals, NU Dining began devising a food recovery program. Within 24 hours, a full-scale food recovery effort was planned out in close partnership with the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) and with multiple nonprofits throughout the greater Chicagoland region. By the end of the two-week period nearly 11,000 meals had been donated to the following organizations:

  • Bronzeville/Kenwood Mutual Aid
  • Chicago Food Action Policy Council
  • Evanston/Skokie School District 65
  • GiveNKind
  • Growing Home Inc.
  • Lakeview Pantry
  • Love Fridge Chicago
  • Northern Illinois Food Bank
  • Ravenswood Mutual Aid
  • Rogers Park Food Not Bombs

Addressing Food Insecurity on Campus

Nearly half of the full-time undergraduate students at Northwestern University are on some form of financial aid through grants or need-based scholarships.

“Students who are food insecure often experience a double disadvantage — hunger and social isolation,” said Lisa Carlson, registered dietitian nutritionist for NU Dining. “Our approach is to provide multiple resources to help students gain confidence in the kitchen and enjoy making delicious and healthful meals.”

The Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education recognized the collaboration between Compass and NU Dining to create sustainable innovations to combat the challenge of food insecurity faced by students on campus. The partners presented Hungry Minds: Fighting Food Insecurity on College Campuses in October at the 2020 Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education, which highlighted the following programs:

    • The Wildcat Eats website offering nutritious recipes with tips and food hacks to help students navigate meal planning and stretch students’ food budgets.
    • The Purple Pantry food pantry serving more than 80 students with weekly food pickups and advice on creating nutritious meals with budget-friendly strategies.
    • The Wildcat Food Guide, a student-created website completed in January 2021, featuring Compass and Feeding America low-cost recipes and advice for students on stretching their food budgets. All recipes include cost per serving and nutrition information.
    • Compass Group implemented a new Teaching Kitchen program, Eating Healthy on a Budget, using a curriculum from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The NU Dining team focuses on peer-to-peer learning as students explore basic cooking methods and making recipes in a safe, non-threatening environment. Students are given tools (measuring cups, can opener, knife) and instruction on how to make a variety of daily meals using staples available from the Purple Pantry. In late March 2020, because of COVID-19, the Teaching Kitchens went virtual with online videos.