Meryl Goldstein

Meryl Goldstein is a first-year student at the University of Virginia. Meryl is involved with the HOPE Center, which she visits twice a week to paint with some of its talented artists, and loves listening to them tell stories about their lives. (bio from 2009)

Posts from Meryl:

Sunday morning cooking for Campus Kitchen is perhaps not what you’d think. They don’t actually cook all of the food during the cooking session; most of it is pre-cooked by dining and donated in the form of leftovers. This is a positive thing though – it means that leftover food, instead of being wasted, is given to people who are hungry. Sometimes they need to cook a little more food to round out the nutritional value of the meal (this week they had to make an extra tray of rice to include more carbs) but overall, the food they donate is food that would otherwise be thrown away. During the week they store it in coolers in Runk’s kitchen, and check the temperature daily to make sure it stays within safe ranges. Then on Sunday the cooking shift comes in – bright and early at 9:30 am – and puts it in the steamer to freshen it up.

When I walked in to talk to this week’s shift, I found two girls and two guys, the girls in hairnets and everyone in aprons. “Hey!” they exclaimed, grinning and friendly. Aubrey and Ariel, the shift leaders, then proceeded to show me around the kitchen, a gleaming metal maze that clanked and hummed with the sounds of ovens, freezers, and slamming metal doors. Around us Runk’s kitchen staff worked diligently to prepare Sunday brunch.

“175 for the vegetables!” called out Aubrey, who had her head in the steamer, checking their temperature. Ariel explained how they have to be really careful with their paperwork, making sure to record the temperature of everything they served, to ensure that the food was safe to eat. “Potatoes are 170!” called Aubrey again. There are also a lot of logistical issues to working in the kitchen – simply forgetting to switch the steamer from “manual” to “timer” can cause problems.

There were some humorous moments during the shift, too, like when one of the vegetable trays got stuck in the steamer. After the food is steamed, it’s placed in a heater, which is then placed in a warmer box to trap the heat. These big boxes are finally loaded into volunteers’ cars and driven to the Salvation Army, where the same volunteers serve the food to Charlottesville community members.

The enthusiastic CK staff, with all the food loaded into warmers, has a reason to be proud. The group is starting a new initiative that helps the environment, U.Va. dining, and the poor community of Charlottesville. Leaving the morning shift, I felt glad that I’d gotten up early on a Sunday to be a part of this experience. Campus Kitchen can only be described as a strong new group with a lot of momentum and even more potential.

Editor’s Note: Campus Kitchen is a new student volunteer opportunity collaborating with Madison House, if you’re a student interested in volunteering with Campus Kitchen email Aubrey Mignone at or Katie Pollard at

Today I got my first taste of Campus Kitchen, the new organization at U.Va. that donates extra dining hall food to the local Salvation Army. CK, which was initiated last year by two students in the Class of 2009 who received a grant from the Seven Society, kicked off this semester. It served its first meal at the Salvation Army on Valentine’s Day.

Last semester a small group of students worked on planning and paperwork to get the program going, ironing out all of the details. It’s exciting to become involved in a group that’s such a new initiative here.

Most of CK’s work occurs on Sundays, when students prepare, transport and serve the extra food. During the week, they check the temperature of stored food on a daily basis. Wednesdays are the big drop-off days, when all three U.Va. dining halls bring their leftovers to Runk, where CK stores their stash of food. The local bakery that supplies our dining halls also brings in a shipment of its extra food on Wednesday. CK is working to move meal-planning, a vital part of their program, to Sunday evenings. They always make sure to serve a balanced meal: on the list for this Sunday were beef, pork tenderloin, confetti pilaf, black beans, rice, and potatoes! I was impressed that meat and veggies were included, really rounding out the menu.

The organization’s goal is to serve a meal every week, regardless of whether school is in session. They want to stress that Charlottesville doesn’t shut down, and people’s needs don’t go away, just because U.Va. is not in session. So far they’ve been successful with this – they served on both Sundays during our spring break.

“We’re trying to find our stride,” explained Ariel, one of today’s shift leaders. She continued that CK is thinking about expanding its donor base to other sites, and maybe even gleaning the Farmer’s Market for unwanted produce. They also are trying to figure out how to work in tandem with SEED, another student organization that receives food donations from community restaurants such as Bodo’s, and serves them to the needy.

I’m excited to start volunteering with CK this semester – if they’ve accomplished so much in so little time, there’s no telling what they’ll do once they hit their stride!

Every day at the Hope Center brings a new challenge. Time commitments, for one, are hard to stick to, because of the nature of the job, and plans must often be changed.

This week I went twice, on Tuesday and Thursday, to paint with one of the Hope Center’s frequent visitors. He and I have been painting together since December, and we’ve gotten to be friends. He tells me about all the many places he’s travelled, and I am consistently fascinated by his life story. He’s only known English for six years, but I can understand him perfectly.

On Tuesday, though, he was feeling too sick to paint. We spent two hours looking through old magazines and nature books to find inspiration – he loves to paint landscapes and birds, although he recently finished an amazing acrylic of the Chicago skyline. I was disappointed that he didn’t get to work, and Thursday, the building was locked, we didn’t have a key, and all of our art materials were inside. The goal of these paintings is to generate him a better income, so it was frustrating that we had an unproductive week.

It seems silly to get upset over two unsuccessful days. This man’s life has been full of ups and downs that reached points much higher and lower than the disappointment of a locked building. I should learn from him that these two days mean nothing in the bigger scheme of what we’re doing, which is slowly building him a better life – and, in talking and looking through photographs, also enjoying the idle time.

As the holiday season approaches, it’s impossible not to notice a change in our surroundings. Christmas ads flood the commercial breaks on TV before we’ve even reached Thanksgiving. Red and green goodies line the shelves of drug stores, toy stores, Hallmark stores, grocery stores, Target, Walmart, our closets. And of course there are all of those holiday carols that you can’t help but memorize if you go out in public at all during the months of November and December. But beyond all these changes, there are other things happening that we don’t notice.

We at UVA are lucky. We can afford all that red and green. We are so used to affording it, in fact, that we don’t even notice the fact that we can afford it. To us, the Christmas carols are background noise, and colorful red-and-green Hershey kisses and cheesy ornaments are available at our disposal. We walk past them in CVS without even realizing their flamboyance, without recognizing that people sit just outside who have not been given holiday chocolates in a long time, people who may have never received a Christmas card.

It’s easy to ignore all of this inequality because we are not actively looking for it. How many days did it take for you to pass through Newcomb or O Hill, in a rush to grab a meal as you run to wherever you’re headed next, before you noticed the humble tree that sits by the card swipe, displaying the modest holiday wishes of some local citizens who do not have the luxury to ignore their financial situations? How many days passed in between your noticing the tree and actually stopping to take the time to read the requests on the paper ornaments? I know I signed up to purchase a gift, but I didn’t do it the first day. And when I finally did take time to stop, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to the project, and maybe you weren’t either. We’re college students; our families may help us out a lot, but our personal bank accounts might be pretty slim, and we already have to buy gifts for our own loved ones, so why should we take on the extra burden of buying a gift for people we don’t know?

It’s not a hard question to answer. The requests on the tree are very different from our own. For the holidays, none of us are asking for a new pair of socks, bath soap, or twenty dollars for groceries. Many of us could call home on any given day for these things, or buy them ourselves. If nothing else, we need to recognize that the holiday season does not provide the same experience for everyone. If nothing else, we need to read the requests on that tree and acknowledge what, exactly, it means that some mother here in our city is asking anyone – any stranger – to help her buy clothes for her child at Christmastime. Whether or not someone else will help her, whether or not we believe she is justified in asking, the fact is the same. What does it mean if we dismiss this as having nothing to do with us?

The holidays are largely about family, about bringing people together. They’re as perfect a time as any to try to bridge the disconnect that exists in our community – the disconnect between those who can grab the red and green Hershey kisses off the shelf as an afterthought, and those who sit outside, hungry. Do we care about these people who go hungry, who watch us eat? If the answer is “of course we care,” do our actions reflect this?

It’s true that the tree is easier to ignore. But attach a face to each one of those little slips of paper, and what you’re faced with is a person who is asking for your help. Walking past it, then, is doing more than just ignoring – it’s saying no to their plea. When you look at it from that angle, it’s easy to tell why we all should respond with a resounding yes. We should do so because we can.

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