Man and woman holding boxes of fruit behind a car with it's trunk openTeaching, and learning remotely during the pandemic is not easy—from dropped zoom calls and spotty internet, to feeling disconnected from classmates and course material. But this fall, one class managed to combat feelings of isolation and social distance through a community-based project on hunger. Funded by a Community Impact Grant from CU Boulder’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, undergraduate students in “Food Geographies” partnered with Boulder Food Rescue (BFR), a food redistribution non-profit, to conduct a project evaluation of its No Cost Grocery Program. 

After learning about root causes of food insecurity in the United States, and the limitations of charitable food assistance, the class met with speakers from BFR to discuss their work of “redistributing produce and power” through community-led free food sites around town. Then, CU students worked in groups to conduct virtual zoom interviews with participants in BFR’s programs-- focusing their conversations on program evaluation and how the pandemic has impacted individuals’ food access. With a few class sessions of qualitative data analysis to lean on, students dived into transcription and collaborative analysis to present key findings back to BFR partners. 

“I found this project to be very inspiring at a personal level, as it allowed me to learn about organizations making a positive impact on communities by hearing first-hand from participant experiences,” reflected student Jaqueline De Carrera.

Many of her classmates also reported that they really enjoyed meeting others in the community through interviews, and that the outreach project helped them feel a sense of responsibility and belonging to the broader community (including the many senior citizens they interviewed).

“In a time of social isolation, it is more important than ever to reach out to the more marginalized members of our community,” remarked Elizabeth Gilbert. 

What were students most surprised to learn?

“This project challenged my notion of the progressiveness of Boulder, reinforcing that food justice is a crucial element of any community no matter its average levels of wealth,” wrote Solomon Guttmann.

They were also impressed with the mutual support and generosity that characterized how community leaders in BFR’s programs help each other through the pandemic.  

“In one interview, the senior participant described how she ended up with extra food and distributed it to her college-age neighbors who were out of grocery money. This anecdote warmed my heart because it shows how interconnected we are,” related Joey Kessler. 

Connection was the resounding theme of the project, and what we all could use more of these days. Community-engaged work builds connections to course concepts and to each other.

“Working outside of the classroom is really important because it helps us, university students, connect with the communities that we are a part of, and also because it gives a real-world grounding to everything we learn inside the classroom,” summarized Esmé Fahnestock. 

Young woman standing outside behind a table with bags of food on it.Man wearing a mask standing in front of a building when cardboard boxed. The building sign says "Community Center"