‘The need has grown even more:’ Konza Student Table targets food insecurity with multi-organization collaboration

St. Isidore’s already serves meals to students on Sundays while school is in session, with around 200 students eating “Dollar Dinner” each week, according to their food chair Myka Kuhlman, senior in secondary education. (Archive photo by Hannah Hunsinger | Collegian Media Group)

Starting Sept. 9, St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center will host Konza Student Table, a new program offering free evening meals and light breakfast items for the next morning for Kansas State students facing food insecurity. The Konza Student Table will be open every Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

A collaborative effort, Konza Student Table has partners from St. Isidore’s, the Food and Farm Council of Riley County and the City of Manhattan, Cats’ Cupboard, K-State Student Governing Association, K-State’s Department of Hospitality and K-State’s International Student Center.

Hospitality students at Lacy’s Fresh Fare and Catering, located in Justin Hall, will prepare the food for distribution.

Food insecurity is one of the biggest issues in the community, Vickie James, coordinator for the Food and Farm Council for Riley County and the City of Manhattan and a facilitator for Konza Student Table, said.

“We have the highest rate of food insecurity of any county in Kansas,” James said. “Our food insecurity rate in Riley County is around 18.5 percent. The statewide average is about 14 percent. This is a significant problem. This is not just happening because of COVID. The need was already there, and we had already started planning before this happened; but now, the need has grown even more.”

According to James, Konza Student Table intends to continue operating through the end of the semester, even if classes shift fully online. It may be less noticeable, but people will still be in need.

Lizz Daniels, junior in dietetics, works at Cats’ Cupboard, the campus food pantry. Daniels said 173 students already visited Cats’ Cupboard between Aug. 17 and 28 of this year.

“When students have food insecurity,” Daniels said, “It can cause health problems, and it can negatively affect their schoolwork. Many students are too willing to put work or school needs above getting enough food. This [food distribution] is an opportunity to bridge the gap the best we can to make sure everyone is getting fed and reaching their academic goals.”

However, according to James, a pantry is not always enough.

“Many students need more help than that,” James said. “We know things are a little upside-down right now, and this team has come together saying ‘We’re here to help, at least in a small way. We care.’ Lots of challenges are going on, but in spite of that, this feels like something we can do to support the students in the long run.”

Konza Student Table will be held at St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center, located on the corner of Anderson Ave. and Denison.

“Konza Student Table is something we at St. Isidore’s have been longing for for some time,” Gale Hammerschmidt, the church’s chaplain, said. “We recognize that if we’re going to be true Christians, we have to help our brothers and sisters in need. We’re in the middle of a large building project, but if all we’re doing is building a castle on the corner of Dennison and Anderson to celebrate ourselves, and not to serve other people, we wouldn’t be living up to our call as Christians. Part of the reason we need a renovation is so we can serve people better.”

St. Isidore’s already serves meals to students on Sundays while school is in session, with around 200 students eating “Dollar Dinner” each week, according to their food chair Myka Kuhlman, senior in secondary education.

However, Konza Student Table is different. While St. Isidore’s will serve as a location for the Wednesday meals, many people have helped the program come together.

Ericka Bauer, hospitality management instructor, helps oversee the effort for the hospitality management department and works with volunteers to ensure that everyone making, distributing and receiving these meals stays safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All staff at Lacy’s follows the Riley County Health Department standards in place for any licensed food service establishment,” Bauer said. “We’ll be wearing PPE and will also use a peroxide-based chemical to prevent the spread of COVID. We will disinfect and then sanitize, so there’s double the protection in preparing these meals.”

According to Bauer, those serving will wear masks, maintain a six-foot distance and sanitize or wash hands in addition to wearing gloves. Meals will also be served grab-and-go style, to avoid unnecessary contact and make students feel safer.

Bauer said she is excited to build community relations in Manhattan while bringing students to see a different side of hospitality.

“A lot of what we talk about in class has to do with the higher-class side of hospitality like hotels and restaurants, but we don’t usually discuss the nonprofit side, which is really important too, especially for students on campus,” Bauer said. “If we can take the burden off of students for one meal a week, they can put that saved money towards something else like rent or utilities.”

According to James, Konza Student Table wants students to feel confident and comfortable in how these things are being approached.

“In a world of so many wrongs, this feels like the next right thing,” James said.