TU Dining began contributing to the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma on April 17, 2012. According to Mike Neal, Head of Dining Services, the program had a slow start due to logistics, but reinvigorated efforts in 2015, and 2016 saw some 14,700 pounds in donated food. Food intended for donation is picked up from the cafeteria and ACAC twice a week. Cuisine from the food court is donated, along with foods that have been prepared but do not get put out for actual service. Neal said that all of the food’s temperatures, holding times and cooling times must be fully documented. Most of this food is proteins and vegetables. A few starches, such as rice, make their way in as well.
Currently, between ACAC and the cafeteria, TU Dining donates 400-500 pounds per week to the food bank and another combined 500 pounds per week between a community composting group and a pot-bellied pig rescue camp called “Hamalot” that feeds over 300 rescue pigs. Last semester alone, TU Dining donated over 3,390 pounds of food to these efforts. Which items go to the pigs and composting? Foods like desserts, sandwich makings and salad bar items, which all cannot be legally donated for human consumption, along with overripe fruits and stale Einstein’s bagels, are perfect for composting. According to Neal, food for pick up is placed in special containers, complete with food holding and production paperwork that must be completed on both the giving and receiving sides. Closely monitoring food temperatures during this process is critical.
TU Dining is also invested in sustainability. All to-go ware throughout campus (except the styrofoam cup at Chick-Fil-A) is compostable and landfill friendly. The Apex dishwashing system at the cafeteria operates at a high efficiency, saving ten percent or more on energy, water and soap needs versus standard equipment. Every drop of grease used on campus is recycled and used as biofuel. The dining department, with the help of Physical Plant, recycles aluminum, paper, plastics, glass, cardboard, motor oil, antifreeze and fluorescent light bulbs.
On top of all this, TU Dining’s donation efforts have helped support the Tulsa Day Center, Kendall Whittier Food Bank, Campus Methodist Church Food Bank, True Blue Neighbors (via healthy cooking classes) and the John 3:16 Mission. According to Neal, dining staff are deeply entrenched in the fight against hunger in Tulsa. They’ve assisted with free cooking classes, the digging of neighborhood gardens, personal food drives (TU Dining employees raised 1,800 pounds of food during a drive last spring for donation to TU Campus Methodist Church’s food bank) and sustainability projects on campus (why the cafeteria no longer uses trays).
In fact, TU Dining partners with Whole Foods to take produce that would otherwise be thrown out and funnels it to the pig farm and other green waste recycling projects. To boot, TU Dining partners with TU to take kitchen waste from campus and, using its ORCA 600 (600 pounds of food scrap capacity) composter (located in the cafeteria), turns it into viable compost for community gardens and farms.