Jessica Jackson grew up knowing food brings people together, so it made perfect sense when her best friend Karen Borchert suggested they kick their shared passion for cooking up a notch. "We were these two college girls who really liked to cook," says Borchert. "I said, 'I bet there's someone who's had a hard week.' So we called a church and got a prayer list and said, 'Hey, we'd like to bring you dinner.' "

Four years later Borchert and Jackson, both 25, have made stirring up goodwill a full-time mission. With the Campus Kitchens Project, a nonprofit headquartered in St. Louis, they take 500 volunteers on college campuses, including Dillard University in New Orleans and Saint Louis University, mix in food donated by restaurateurs and create hot meals for senior citizens, the homeless and kids in after-school programs. With six kitchens now in operation, the volunteers deliver more than mere sustenance. "They come in and ask, 'Miss Jackson, what can I do for you?' " says Betty Jackson, 66, of St. Louis, whose spinal disease keeps her from standing long enough to cook. "I can expect company twice a week."

Funded in part by a $500,000 corporate grant, the program does have one drawback: It keeps director Borchert—a Nebraska native married to her high school sweetheart, Taylor, 25-and associate director Jackson, who's from New Jersey and single, too busy to cook. Still, "connecting with the community has become like an addiction," says Jackson, "and I'm not planning to try to kick it."