There’s an ancient story about a young man who spends all day hunting and comes back home absolutely starving from his exertions. He’s so hungry in fact that in order to get just a solitary bowl of soup he trades away his inheritance. Now the moral of the story is usually something about not being short-sighted and trading away the future for instant gratification…but this moral misses the most basic of points (not to mention how special that soup must have been.)
This same point hits harder for me everyday when my kids come home from school. These are kids that don’t miss meals; they have breakfast opportunities, get lunch at school and know that unless anything has changed from the previous days of their lives, dinner is on the way. But they arrive home just “famished” everyday and are completely blind to all of the chores, homework and other activities their parents had planned until they get something to eat.
Hunger comes first.
We’ve always known this and now study after study supports it. In the case of children, their ability to perform well academically and even to develop their social skills is impaired by their inability to eat well. But it’s not just kids and it’s not just academics. It’s everyone who has to worry about where and what they’re going to eat next. Because if you’re worried about what’s to eat you really can’t worry about anything else.
Many years ago Abraham Maslow very helpfully listed a whole lot of good things that can’t be achieved if our most basic physiological needs aren’t met. Things like morality, problem-solving, self-esteem, friendship, employment and health. Good Maslow, very good.
So when it comes to the 50,000,000 plus Americans who cannot supply for themselves or their families the amount and quality of food necessary for healthy living, getting them fed comes before all of those other good things they want and need and must be the priority of the compassionate communities they live in.
When we throw away close to 40% of the food available to us, there’s no reason our neighbors have to be stuck at this most basic of levels.
Community Plates and its food-runners are freeing food insecure Americans to focus on bigger and better things, one food rescue at a time. Direct-transfer food rescue solves this needless, escalating, all-consuming problem.
One of the things that we often hear from people who have recently joined the food rescue revolution is how much they enjoy the immediate access to volunteering opportunities the Community Plates app gives them and the immediate impact their food running can make.
Not everyone has the ability to volunteer a set amount of hours every week at a set time and place, but many people still want to make a difference in the time they do have available. CP “The App” (you can get signed up here) was designed specifically to allow for people who might have limited and specific times they need to serve but still want to; it’s a “right here, right now” application. So if this hypothetical busy person wakes up on Saturday morning and realizes that they have a window of time to serve between 10 and 11am that particular day, the App will give them all the information they need to make the best possible use of their time. (what could be better than feeding hungry people)
And there’s nothing better than giving your time to something that changes someone else’s reality for the good immediately. Since the food we rescue is delivered directly to soup kitchens who cook it up right away and directly to food pantries who get it delivered to families in need right away our food runners often deliver food which is being eaten within minutes and hours of when it was rescued.
One of our food runners recently described the connection to her community she felt when she was walking in the door of a food pantry in Connecticut, past a line of people waiting to eat and realized that “this food here that I just rescued will very likely be eaten by that person there.”
Not everything worth having in life can be achieved quickly. I’ve heard wine for instance gets better as time passes. But when you’re hungry…I mean really stomach gnawing, I can’t concentrate on my work or studies, painful type hungry…you need food right here and right now.
Community Plates food runners are making those kinds of connections everyday.
During the question and answer time of a presentation I was making recently I was asked the question that most people wonder before they start rescuing food. “What kinds of food will we be rescuing?” In other words, potential food rescuers want to know “why is there so much waste” and “what will I actually be transferring.”
It takes a lot of different types of waste to get to the 25% to 40% of all the food Americans have access to that is wasted, but here are just a few categories that make up the majority of what a Community Plates food runner is most likely to rescue:
1. Surplus Food– The restauranteurs that we serve do their best to keep waste down but some waste is unavoidable. Our markets and grocers place a premium (because their shoppers demand it) on always having completely stocked shelves. A new shipment is coming in tomorrow and the “old” food has to come off the shelf, even if it’s not really all that old. Over-preparation and over-stocking is necessary then to ensure they provide the best customer service and the result is lots of potential waste. Much of the food that we rescue is not flawed in any way but is simply surplus.
2. Slightly Bruised or Slightly Damaged Food or Packaging– Not only do we want fully stocked shelves but the food has to look a certain way too. Grocers are constantly removing from their shelves fruits, vegetables, boxes and cans that are in “almost” perfect shape. The apple at your house with the small bruise that you would just cut off and eat is the apple that the grocer can’t sell. Much of the food that we rescue is “just about” flawless.
3. Expiring Food– Some foods are deemed to be expiring because they are approaching ripe and sometimes there are actual “sell by” or “expiration” dates approaching. None of these things mean the food is bad or even close to bad. Sell by and expiration dates are almost always related to food quality (usually with a very high standard attached) and almost never to food safety. Much of the food we rescue is going bad by a printed date only.
The extremely high standards Americans demand of the food-service organizations who serve them provide a real opportunity for the 50 million of us who can’t provide the amount of food or quality of food necessary for healthy living. Access to surplus, slightly damaged and expiring foods mean that none of the 1 in 7 children in the U.S. currently going hungry have to continue to do so.
There are other food rescue opportunities that arise but these three categories cover most of the food that a Community Plates food runner will get the chance to rescue. After a few food rescues most people go from asking the “what kind of food will we rescue” question to amazement at the amount of food that would have been potentially wasted but instead they are able to transfer to feed the hungry.
Food For All.
Seventeen months into the life of Community Plates we are approaching a really big number. It’s the “one million pounds of food rescued” mark. It’s really hard to comprehend and although it’s a relatively small number for hunger relief organizations who have been doing this a long time, it’s a really big deal for us…it means something.
It means that you don’t have to pay people to take care of their neighbors. People are willing to do the right thing and respond both to the need of food insecurity and the promise of food rescue. They’re willing to use their own vehicles and carve time out of their schedules and respond to the adventure that food rescue can be.
It means that technology is a tool that can indeed change the reality of hunger in America. We wondered when we started if people would respond to online opportunities to serve and if they’d log in regularly and search for food rescues that fit their specific schedules. They have and they do.
It means 825,000 meals were created. This is food that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill; meals that didn’t exist before, delivered to the amazing agencies we serve free of charge. No delivery fee, no program expense, no strings attached. All we ask is that people get fed with the food and over three quarter of a million people have been.
It means Community Plates food runners are feeding hungry people. One million pounds means something. It means our food runners have begun a food rescue revolution that will change the face of American hunger.
Food For All
We’ve been telling the story for a while now about what Community Plate’s technology-fueled, direct-transfer food rescue platform looks like but today I’ve been reflecting on what this type of food rescue isn’t. Sometimes you can get clearer on what something is but finding out what it is not.
Direct-transfer food rescue isn’t just your good deed for the week or a random act of kindness. Save those for when you let someone cut you off in traffic without trying to ram them from behind or tell them that they’re number one. Food rescue is an intentional act of concern for your neighbors. Although it’s simple enough to do, it takes intentionality to check in regularly to see the opportunities to transfer food from where it would be wasted to where it can fill someone’s stomach or pantry. It takes intentionality to make sure your car has been cleaned out and the car seats moved in order to make room for 9 bins of fresh produce. It takes intentionality to look outside the confines of your busy life to notice that not everyone in America is doing so great. There’s nothing random about it and it’s more than just a good deed…it’s a life altering activity, both for the one doing the transfer and the ones who benefit from the food transferred.
Direct-transfer food rescue powered by technology isn’t business as usual in the food rescue arena. People have been concerned about food waste for a long time and there are many great organizations who have done great work in trying to make sure that waste is eliminated for the benefit of those in need. Technology now allows us to make the food rescue process more efficient than ever and most importantly gives us direct and seamless access to America’s most precious natural resource…passionate, concerned, generous people. The direct-transfer part of the equation means that overhead stays low by eliminating warehouses, trucks and employees and most importantly that more fresh food gets to where it’s needed in time to actually make into a meal. Most importantly direct-transfer means that more and more people (by the hundreds now and soon by the thousands) are connected in a real way to their communities; spending time with food-donors, those who receive and distribute the food and sometimes even those who will be eating the food.
Technology-fueled, direct-transfer food rescue is not a volunteering fad. It might have been if our food runners had not rescued the equivalent of 750,000 meals in our first year. It might have been if we hadn’t heard the happy stories from our receiving agencies about declining food-budgets (when they need it most) and their grateful clients raving about receiving a greater variety of food of higher quality than they would normally would have had access to. It might have been if we hadn’t realized somewhere along the way that the fresh foods our food runners transfer can make a major dent in obesity and of course a corresponding dent in diabetes. It might have just been a fad if we hadn’t become aware of just how great the need is and more importantly just how many people are willing to join this cause and end American food insecurity.
What else is food-rescue not?
We have entered into a season of disagreement. As I watched one convention end last night and prepare to watch another play out next week it’s clear that if you are someone who just generally likes to disagree or if you’re favorite phrase is “let’s just agree to disagree”…this is your time! I’m not wishing for it…but I’m pretty sure that’s where we’re headed.
And if that’s disheartening to you at all, I have some good news. There are a few things we can agree on…all of us. So if you get bogged down over the next 70 days under the weight of partisan politics would you consider the following points of agreement?
1. Can we agree that it doesn’t make any sense that our neighbors; people we work with and kids our children go to school with are struggling to provide enough good food to live healthily?
2. Can we agree that American hunger makes even less sense if we know where to find that food and it’s food that will otherwise be thrown away?
3. Can we agree that the best way to get that food to people in need is to take the most direct route to where they are?
4. Can we agree that it is our responsibility to care for those in our community that are having a hard time caring for themselves?
We might have different ideas on how to lower unemployment, or what’s the best way to make sure people have access to health care but let’s agree on these four things. Maybe our agreement will be an inspiration to all the guys in dark suits and red ties appearing on t.v. screens everywhere!
If you have a moment, log in to CP The App right away and see if there is a food rescue that works for you.
Food for all!
There’s probably a few of us that don’t even know what a food desert is, although if you think about it just a bit it will come to you. If you live somewhere in the industrialized world and you have a hard time obtaining healthy, affordable food, you live in a food desert. The ironic thing about food deserts is that the problem isn’t often about there being no food …so you aren’t necessarily going to starve…but the food that your body really needs, the nutrition that is essential for the bodies of your kids and elderly parents…that food is hard to come by. There are food deserts in both rural and urban areas and they are most prevalent in low-socioeconomic minority communities.
Food deserts are defined by terms like “supermarket shortage” (people in these areas have a hard time getting to retail grocery stores) and are linked to a great variety of diet-related health problems.
But you can dig into all of the bad news somewhere else (there’s plenty of good info out there) because these particular paragraphs are about hope.
Direct-transfer food rescue has the potential to turn a food desert into an oasis. I’m saying potential because most of this work is still to be done; but this transformation has already begun.
Every Friday morning Chris (a Community Plates food runner for almost a year now) rescues over a thousand pounds of fresh produce from an area wholesaler and delivers it to the East End Community Council in Bridgeport, CT. Willene and Ted are community organizers there who make sure the food gets placed on tables and distributed to the hundreds of food insecure people who show up there every week. Two weeks ago I got a phone call from a community leader in Bridgeport who said “do you realize what a big difference this is making?”
And they’re right. In this case the difference is about replacement. Another bag of corn chips is replaced with some fresh broccoli. Candy bars are replaced with Kale and fried taquitos off of a convenience store roller warmer are replaced with all the ingredients for a delicious salad.
And Chris is just one of many who have decided to be a part of this food rescue revolution. We now have opportunities in three different states to make this kind of difference. If you’re a Community Plates food runner don’t underestimate the difference you’re making in by being a part of this transformation; one food rescue at a time.
And if you haven’t joined the charge, it’s simple. Performing one food rescue a week (or at least one a month) won’t change your life (you’ll still have time to do the other stuff you need to do) but it will change a life. We need your help!
Okay I have to be honest and say we really hope that Community Plates food runners perform a food-rescue every week. The more active our food-runners are the more confidently we can pursue new potential food donors, which results in a whole lot more food getting in the pantries and stomachs of food insecure Americans. (If any of this lingo so far sounds strange, click here for a little CP Glossary)
Here’s the way that it works in food rescue land: We know approximately how many active food runners it takes to efficiently and reliably serve a food donor, so before we can tell a new potential food donor “yes we’ll be there three times a week to rescue your food before it’s thrown away” we have to first ask, “how many active food runners do we have?”
Now as I hinted above a really active food runner makes an effort to pick up a run every week but the beauty of Community Plates technology-based platform is that if you have an extra busy few weeks and aren’t able to perform a food-rescue, the minute (literally the very minute) you do have time to help, you can sign up right then and be rescuing food immediately. In addition, as we continue to add more food rescues to the schedule there is a greater variety of available runs and more options to fit your schedule.
So the request is this: If you’ve caught a vision for helping us end American food-insecurity through direct-transfer food rescue, join us by performing at least one food rescue per month. You’ll get a weekly reminder from your area’s site director; not sent your way to annoy you or jam up your inbox but just as a gentle nudge to say “hey, hungry people are counting on us.” We don’t have a backup plan! It’s all about the food runners; your passion and your generosity.
Please join us for at least 1 food rescue per month. Thanks for what you do!
It’s always exciting to announce a new addition to the #FoodForAll revolution, especially when it’s a donor who creates amazing foods that will ultimately end up in the pantries and stomachs of the hungry. That’s exactly what’s happening now that Wave Hill Breads in Norwalk, CT have become food-rescue partners of Community Plates. Like many others in communities across the country the good people at Wave Hill Breads try to keep overages and waste to a minimum but in preparing product for sale there is inevitably some bread that might have gone to waste if they weren’t intent on making sure that everything they produce goes to good use.
And this isn’t just bread…Wave Hill Breads (WHB) is an artisan micro-bakery intent on making bread for their customers that will make them say “this is the best bread I’ve ever had!” WHB started delivering bread to farmers markets in 2005 and although their breads are still available at farmers markets and restaurants all over Connecticut and New York, they also have a home store at 30 High Street in Norwalk (CT) that you have to visit if for no other reason than just to smell it! Their breads are crafted by hand using French methods and now food-insecure people in their community will get some of that wonderful bread as Community Plates food-runners rescue bread three times a week and transfer it to soup-kitchens and food-pantries.
So stop in and give the place a smell…stop in and buy some amazing bread to take home…stop in and say thank you to the people of Wave Hill Breads for caring for their community and for becoming a partner of Community Plates. (Oh and can like them on Facebook here)