Even though it has been more than 40 years since Walletta Hayes attended college, she has no trouble remembering mealtime in the campus dining hall: limp, discolored vegetables and mystery meat.

Nothing like the meals delivered these days to Hayes and her neighbors at O'Malley Apartments from the kitchen at nearby Gonzaga University.

Three nights a week, student volunteers package dinners that otherwise would have gone to waste and distribute them to residents of the low-income complex. A recent dinner tray included poached salmon, wild rice and fresh string beans.

"I think this is better than the dorm foods I used to get" at college in the early 1960s, Hayes said. "I don't remember it being this good."

Gonzaga is one of six universities nationwide that sponsor a Campus Kitchens Project, in which student volunteers package unserved dining hall food into nutritious meals that they distribute to the elderly, homeless and underprivileged in nearby communities.

Founded as a pilot program at St. Louis University in 2001, Campus Kitchens is a spinoff of the District-based DC Central Kitchen, whose founder and CEO, Robert L.E. Egger, came up with the idea of using unserved food and campus facilities during off hours to feed the hungry.

Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga organizes the packaging and distribution of meals.

Hannah Israel, 21, a recent University of Michigan graduate and coordinator of the Gonzaga program, is joined by 40 regular volunteers at Cataldo dining hall to assemble meals, which are supplemented by donations from restaurants, grocery stores and food banks. The next day volunteers load up their cars with food -- including dinners, sack lunches and after-school snacks for elementary schoolchildren involved in a campus mentoring program -- and deliver them to clients of five hunger relief agencies.

"Spokane has a big issue with homelessness and unemployment," Israel said. "There is a lot of need in this community."

The Gonzaga program, which helps train unemployed adults for jobs in the food service industry, serves about 500 meals a week.

And the need clearly extends beyond Washington state.

At Marquette University, senior Kelly Collins volunteers six to eight hours a week at the university's Campus Kitchens.

"A lot of people that want to come here . . . have these kind of values," she said in a telephone interview from the Milwaukee campus.

Kitchen projects are also operating at Chicago's Northwestern University, Augsburg College in Minneapolis and Dillard University in New Orleans, although that school was closed after Hurricane Katrina. A pilot program started earlier this month at Minnesota State University in Mankato.

The program allows students an opportunity to give something back to the community. In Gonzaga's case, it fulfill the school's requirements for serving the underprivileged, said Sima Thorpe, director of the Center for Community Action and Service Learning, a sponsor of Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga.

"Students should have a value of service to others. That's why we have committed so many resources to it," said Thorpe, whose 3-year-old organization has 16 faculty and 50 student volunteers.

Walletta Hayes appreciates the departure from routine that student volunteers bring to her life.

"I've been real satisfied," she said. "The kids are just really, really polite and nice. It's a break to see young faces in the building. Just having happy, smiling, younger faces around . . . is nice."