Jubilee Cafe combats food insecurity

The+Community+United+Church+of+Christ+houses+Jubilee+Caf%C3%A9+and+stands+at+805+S.+6th+Street%2C+in+Champaign+March+21.+The+cafe+celebrated+their+four+year+anniversary+of+serving+free+meals+to+students+and+community+members.

Cameron Krasucki

The Community United Church of Christ houses Jubilee Café and stands at 805 S. 6th Street, in Champaign March 21. The cafe celebrated their four year anniversary of serving free meals to students and community members.

By Jacqui Nguyen, Staff Writer

Walking down Green Street with its wide selection of restaurants and grocery stores, it may be difficult to see the underlying issue of food insecurity on campus and in the rest of the Champaign-Urbana community. To address this important issue, the Jubilee Cafe provides freshly made meals and other food items to people in the community, including University students, every Monday from 5 – 6:30pm at the Community United Church of Christ.

Johnell Bentz, professor in Education, came up with the idea for the Jubilee Cafe with a group from the church when they decided to use the church kitchen to better serve people in the community. As one of the managers of the Cafe, Bentz is in charge of the front of the house where she gets supplies ready and makes sure all the meals are ready to be packaged and served. She is also responsible for contacting community partners for food and monetary donations.

“From talking to people around town, I know that there is a lot of food insecurity on this college campus,” Bentz said. “A lot of people come to campus to panhandle and ask for necessities.”

This observation inspired her to look more into this issue.

“We wanted to make sure we were addressing a need, so we did more research on other places feeding people and decided Monday nights would be most beneficial to the community,” Bentz said.

Before the pandemic, Jubilee Cafe operated like a restaurant. Similar to a restaurant, a server would come up to each table and take orders. Patrons could pick from a few different food options that would be freshly made by volunteers in the kitchen. Guests would be able to sit wherever they wanted at the large tables, allowing opportunities for different members of the community to meet.

“With this model, people would come and sit with folks they may have never had a chance to meet,” Bentz said. “Our tables would seat around eight or nine people and we got to see people interact in a way that would have never been possible before.”

This pre-pandemic model also allowed the Cafe to take in many volunteers. One volunteer, Emily Galfano, has been with Jubilee Cafe since October 2019. As a senior in ACES majoring in Human Nutrition, Galfano wanted to center her volunteer work around food insecurity. Her inspiration to get involved not only stemmed from its important work for the community but also the Cafe’s awareness of dietary restrictions and nutrition.

As an establishment that aims to be conscious of dietary needs, the Cafe ensures that the food they serve is nutritious in addition to tasting good.

“I love that we had a variety of food options available including a meat and a vegetarian option so that there was something for everyone,” Galfano said. “We’re also community oriented in that we get our food from local farms and small businesses.”

The Jubilee Cafe’s focus on the community has continued throughout the pandemic even though this restaurant model is currently not possible. To abide by social distancing guidelines, the Cafe individually packages hot meals that patrons pick up from the church. Volunteers also put together a variety of pantry items including canned goods, donated food from local businesses, sanitary products and more.

The Cafe not only serves members of the Champaign-Urbana community but also emphasizes serving college students. In fact, many University students are regular patrons and utilize the Cafe’s services.

“Students who come here may struggle to pay all the bills,” Bentz said. “Some students may be able to pay their tuition but have trouble paying for food.”

Although there may be a hesitation to get food from a kitchen, the Jubilee Cafe addresses the often overlooked issue of food insecurity among college students. In addition to tuition, students are often faced with the cost of rent, school supply fees and accumulating student debt. Food may not always seem like a priority, but it is a basic necessity.

“I know that there may be a stigma around kitchens that serve free food,” Bentz said. “People may not want to come to a place that is just for poor people, but I want people to know that anyone, undergraduates, graduates, those without a permanent address, can eat with us.”

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Editor’s Note: The Community United Church of Christ houses Jubilee Café, not the Covent Fellowship Church as stated in a previous version of this article.