By Kelly Youngblood
In a church basement on the University of Illinois campus, a group of volunteers are coming together every week to help fill a frequently overlooked need for college students.
The Jubilee Café opened its doors to the public on Oct. 2 in the basement of the Community United Church of Christ, located at 805 S. Sixth St. in Campustown.
The volunteer-based café will provide fresh, home-cooked meals every Monday from 5-6:30 p.m. to college students, as well as local residents, who struggle with food insecurity.
Johnell Bentz, a University of Illinois professor and one of the co-founders of the Jubilee Café, said there’s a misconception that all college students have money.
Bentz said after doing some research and talking to university colleagues, she learned there were many students struggling financially who don’t have the resources to buy enough food.
“We used to joke about (college students) eating Ramen all the time. I’m not sure we should joke about that anymore. I think we should make sure there’s a meal for them,” Bentz said.
Although the weekly meal program is aimed at feeding college students in need, anyone in the community with food insecurity issues is welcome to attend, Bentz said.
The first week of opening, Jubilee Café served 10 people. The following week 44 showed up and just last week, 39 came for dinner.
Bentz said volunteers make enough food to feed about 60 people, but they have the resources to provide for more if needed.
The meals are cooked from scratch in the church’s commercial kitchen each night and usually include a main dish, green salad, soup, and a dessert. They use local produce donated by Jubilee Farms in Clinton.
Before opening the cafe, Bentz and fellow volunteers visited other programs and spent time at local soup kitchens, which inspired them to make Jubilee Café “an experience where you come and sit and be served.”
Rather than stand in line with trays to get food, servers bring the meals to diners at their table.
Even though the dinners are held in a church, Bentz said there is no religious aspect involved.
“We really respect the fact that people are coming here from all different backgrounds- from having faith to no faith at all. We really just want to cook good food and share with people,” she said.
Through donations and sponsors, organizers raised enough money to support the Jubilee Café for one year before the doors opened. But more funds will be needed to keep it going for future years.
Community members, businesses, or organizations can pay $100 to sponsor a week’s worth of meals at the café.
Volunteers are also invited to come help prepare, cook, serve and clean each week. Families wanting to bring smaller children to help volunteer should contact Bentz in advance.
To become a sponsor or for more information about volunteering, email Jubilee.firstname.lastname@example.org.