Which Blazer Kitchen volunteer are you? Find your perfect fit for 2023

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rep blazer kitchen group 550pxUAB's Blazer Kitchen has seen usage soar over the past year, increasing the need for volunteers. Find out more about what that entails (including stocking, pictured above) in this story.

ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

From the moment Blazer Kitchen officially opened its doors in 2017, UAB’s food pantry has seen demand grow. After outgrowing its original spot in Medical Towers, Blazer Kitchen now has its own standalone location (plus a student-focused space in the Hill Center), and offers hygiene and cleaning products, campus-grown produce, and even halal chicken.

But inflation and other economic issues have accelerated the typical growth trends, said UAB Benevolent Fund Manager Lisa Higginbotham. “Use of Blazer Kitchen has significantly increased this year over last year. In fall 2021, we averaged 522 shopping visits per month. Fall 2022 saw an average of 1,343 shopping visits per month. And in the first three months of fiscal year 2023 [October through December], we have served 910 unique individuals — 694 students, 134 employees and 82 patients — and their families.” Blazer Kitchen has provided “enough food for approximately 39,500 meals and almost 5,000 pounds of hygiene and cleaning items,” Higginbotham added.

Meeting these needs takes a commitment from employees and students across the university. “Blazer Kitchen has engaged over 1,250 volunteers in over 10,000 hours of work,” Higginbotham said. “Without volunteers to staff Blazer Kitchen, we could not serve members of our community with individualized service, providing them with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Volunteer through BlazerPulse for a specific shift at the main 1613 Building location or the Hill Student Center location (first, log in to BlazerPulse with your Blazer ID).

What, exactly, do volunteers do at Blazer Kitchen? And (always a pressing question at UAB) is there a place to park? Answers to these questions and more below.

When are employee volunteers most needed?

The greatest times of need for faculty and staff volunteers “are when students are not on campus to volunteer or classes are gearing up — spring and fall break, the first two weeks of a semester and finals week, and summer break, from May through August,” Higginbotham said.

rep blazer kitchen parking 1613 900pxShoppers and volunteers can park for free at Blazer Kitchen's new main location in the 1613 Building, as seen in this Google Street View image.

Can I park?

The main Blazer Kitchen location is the 1613 Building (see exact location and get directions on the Campus Map here), which has its own parking lot. “UAB Administration was generous enough to recognize the need for parking for our shoppers and volunteers and supplied us with a small parking lot that is free of charge,” Higginbotham said. (The other location is in the heart of campus at the Hill Student Center.)

How will I know what to do?

“Pantry volunteers have supervision and someone to provide guidance at all times,” Higginbotham said. “This can be a one-time volunteer opportunity, or it can be recurrent if the individual volunteer wants to continue.”

What can I do?

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ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

1. Unload, stock, clean: Tuesdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., 1613 Building

“You can skip the gym if you volunteer Tuesday morning,” Higginbotham said. “We unload and stock about 3,500 pounds of food each week.” This time slot “is a particularly good opportunity for small groups — approximately eight people — to work together and engage in team-building,” Higginbotham said. “Individual volunteers fill these shifts most often, but it is a great team-bonding experience. We have two retired UAB employees who help us coordinate, especially unloading and stocking items into the refrigerators and freezers.”

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ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

2. Assist patient shoppers (dietary or nutrition science awareness is a plus!): Tuesdays, 1-5 p.m., 1613 Building

“After 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, volunteers assist patient shoppers,” Higginbotham said. “More than our other shoppers, patients need a little extra guidance when they first start shopping because they typically come with some dietary guidelines and/or restrictions. Having volunteers who are aware of dietary or nutrition science is beneficial. Tuesday afternoons are good for people interested in both nutrition science and helping people.”

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ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

3. Assist employee and student shoppers: Wednesday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday 8 a.m.-noon, Saturday 10 a.m.-noon.

During these times, “we utilize volunteers first with assisting shoppers, and when we are between shoppers, volunteers restock and clean the pantry,” Higginbotham said. “If you prefer interacting with a variety of people, Wednesday and Thursday will provide those interactions.”

Volunteers gather food for shoppers from the pantry’s shelves, coolers and freezers, weigh items and document the weights, add new shoppers to the pantry’s computer system, and assist shoppers in scanning their ONE Tap cards to record shopping dates. (Shoppers may visit once per week.)

rep blazer kitchen lancaster 768pxWinston Lancaster, Ph.D., a faculty member in the Department of Biology, organizes workdays for Blazer Kitchen Garden.

ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

4. Join a team at Blazer Kitchen Garden (multiple workdays Saturdays in spring; 2023 dates announced soon) 

“Several times a year, we have workdays in the garden to prepare beds for planting and plant seedlings or seeds,” Higginbotham said. “We also engage in general garden maintenance, including weeding and mulching. These days are usually a Saturday morning or late afternoon, depending on when volunteers are available.” (Find Blazer Kitchen Garden’s location at UAB Gardens here.)

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ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

5. Become a long-term Blazer Kitchen Garden volunteer

“Individuals who are willing to be long-term volunteers can be instructed in general maintenance and harvesting in the garden,” Higginbotham said. “Produce can then be taken to Blazer Kitchen, washed and packaged for distribution to shoppers. Volunteers can work the entire garden or volunteer to adopt a particular garden bed or two.” (Find Blazer Kitchen Garden’s location at UAB Gardens here.)

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ANDREA MABRY / University Relations

6. Volunteer at the Hill Student Center, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Blazer Kitchen in the Hill Student Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Due to its size and that it serves students exclusively, volunteers at this location typically have some down time, which can be good study time for students,” Higginbotham said.

Where do I sign up?

Volunteer through BlazerPulse for a specific shift at the main 1613 Building location or the Hill Student Center location (first, log in to BlazerPulse with your Blazer ID).

Team effort

Blazer Kitchen is a collaboration among the Benevolent Fund, the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research, The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Finance & Administration, UAB Medicine, and UAB Student Outreach.