Blazer Kitchen is powered by volunteers. What powers these employees who volunteer each week?

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rep blazer pulse zhang mosley 550pxEach week, Candi Mosley (left) and Shali Zhang, M.D. (center), volunteer at Blazer Kitchen, UAB's on-campus food pantry, where they work with Grace Dugger (right), program coordinator with the UAB Benevolent Fund. Photo by Jennifer Alsabrook-Turner | University RelationsIt takes something extra to spend two hours on a weeknight volunteering after a full day of work. But for the past 18 months, that has been the routine for Shali Zhang, M.D., a researcher in the Department of Urology. Each Thursday evening, you will find her at Blazer Kitchen, UAB’s on-campus food pantry.

“Sometimes I take people shopping, sometimes I put things on the shelves, sometimes I clean,” Zhang said. “I work in a fairly small lab; I was looking for an opportunity to meet people outside the lab when I learned about Blazer Kitchen at an employee fair.” Zhang has volunteered at the World Games and at her local YMCA during her 10 years in Birmingham and at UAB.

Blazer Kitchen is a special opportunity, Zhang said. “The people shopping are from all over — students, staff, patients. People from other countries, too. And I get to learn a lot about food.”

Zhang is one of more than 80 UAB employees who volunteered in the past year at Blazer Kitchen. The work helps her feel “useful outside my job,” Zhang said. But most of all, “it really helps people — and it is fun,” she said. “I enjoy it.”

That is what keeps Candi Mosley coming back, too — every week, mainly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Mosley works in Building Services at the School of Education. “You get to meet so many people,” Mosley said. And that makes for some special moments. In 2022, the Birmingham Islamic Society began donating 800 pounds of halal chicken to Blazer Kitchen per month. (“Halal” means it is prepared according to the requirements of Islamic law.)

“We are very intentional about our volunteer shifts. We cultivate a fun and welcoming environment. We want our volunteers to get to know each other."

When a shipment comes in, Mosley is often one of the volunteers who gather, assembly-line fashion, to redistribute the chicken into individual portions. One time, the group included some new students from Ghana. “One of the girls started singing a gospel song that I knew, and I joined in,” Mosley said. “We were moving faster, smiling. It put an energy in the room. We were a group of people from all over, but it was like we were at grandma’s house, putting groceries away. I will probably never see those people again, but it was like a social hour.”

“We are very intentional about our volunteer shifts,” said Grace Dugger, a program coordinator with the UAB Benevolent Fund who works with Blazer Kitchen and Employee Emergency Assistance. “We cultivate a fun and welcoming environment by playing music and providing refreshments to our volunteers to show our appreciation for their dedication to giving back to the UAB community. We want our volunteers to get to know each other. I love the aspect of making those connections.”

Volunteer at Blazer Kitchen: Sign up for a shift (and see what you will be doing) on BlazerPulse. Just use your BlazerID to log in.

It can be difficult to visualize what Blazer Kitchen is about until you step into the 1613 Building and see it in action, Dugger says. “Just come here and see what we do,” she said. “You will see how we are reaching out and creating a safe space for people. And you will see the impact.”

“Usually when someone is giving something away they treat you in a certain way,” Mosley said. “When I first came to Blazer Kitchen, it was obvious that they are happy to have you there. I was blown away. There is no stigma.”

Zhang agreed. “I would say to anyone, ‘Don’t be shy,’” she said. “‘If you need it, they are waiting for you.’”

Some employee volunteers, like Mosley and Zhang, come by themselves, Dugger says. Others volunteer together as a department, and even hold donation drives beforehand, bringing what they collect with them for distribution. (See a list of donation needs and Blazer Kitchen’s Amazon wish lists for spices and hygiene/cleaning products.)

Volunteer slots are for two hours, and you can see what you will be doing when you sign up through UAB’s BlazerPulse site. That can include stocking shelves, packing shopping orders for the week and cleaning. See a list and sign up here.

In fiscal year 2023, Blazer Kitchen served 339 employees, 356 patients and 2,778 students. See more on the impact of the UAB Benevolent Fund online.

In addition to the monthly donation of halal chicken, Blazer Kitchen receives diapers, wipes and period products each month from Bundles of Hope. See current donation needs here.