“Organics”-Putting the Unity in Community

However much I can do, we can do more.  However much you can do, we can do more.

This is the reason Community Plates are announcing “Organics, another important part of the march toward ending American food-insecurity.  From the beginning we’ve been about making it simple to do good…giving passionate people the resources they need to rescue as much food as efficiently as possible.  “Organics” will make it simple for us to meet others on the same journey and form a community of people with the same focus.

To be clear, although we will always make it easy for one person to do one run, we think the only way a goal as audacious as feeding over 50,000,000 Americans can be accomplished is by realizing one of core values at Community Plates; namely the value of “community.”

So we’re jumping in with both feet!  “Organics” is matchmaking for socially-conscious people.

So, what exactly is an Organic?

These are runner-led meetups designed to build community outside of the day-to-day food runs you’re involved with!  Grab coffee, go biking, meet at a bar, knit a huge sock (which would be weird).  It doesn’t matter at all what you do as long as you’re spending time with other CP runners!  Community is one of our core values at CP– hence Community Plates – and organics are how we’re going to get intentional about tightening our network!

Very soon “Organics” will be a function of our web-app (meaning you can login and find out what fun and energizing things are going on) but in the meantime we’re doing it the old-fashioned way (meaning email and phones.)

Step-by-Step

  1. Send the details of your Organic to Stephanie Spallino (sspallino@communityplates.org), including…When & Where and the email address you want RSVP’s to be sent to
  2. We’ll take care of the invitations for you
  3. After the event…You will receive a follow-up email, fill out a brief 5-question survey and start planning your next Organic!!

Ideas:

Coffee–Movies–Kayaking–Running
Mountain Biking–Hiking
Breakfast–Brunch–Lunch–Dinner
All of the above
The idea is not necessarily to add more activities to your already busy schedules but to invite others to join you in what you’re already doing.

If you have an idea now, let us know.  Be on the lookout for several “Organics” invites soon.

 

 

 

Rave Reviews On Fresh Foods!

We wanted to pass on a portion of an email we received last week from one of the receiving agencies we serve.  It’s from Debbie who is the pantry coordinator at St. Stephen’s Food Pantry which serves food-insecure individuals and families in Bridgeport, CT.

St. Stephens has made an intentional move toward providing more fresh foods to those they serve and that fits perfectly with our direct-transfer food-rescue platform…so our food-runners are taking as much food there as we can!

Here’s what Debbie had to say:

I just want to say THANK YOU  so very much for supporting us at the pantry. The guests are very happy about the fresh foods. We have fed 346 people this month and we have only been open 4 days.  That is crazy! The state is revamping their system and many families are without food stamps.  A worker said they are backed up and are now working on February issues.

Oh by the way, we let our guests do their own shopping. They just love it and they get just what they need and want. They come out saying “hey I just went shopping.”  It’s mostly the food from COMMUNITY PLATES.  (she inserts a whole bunch of happy emoticons here)  these are some of the facial expressions as the guests leave the pantry.

Have a great day !

We are so thankful for our food-donors in the area (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods just to name two) who allow their surplus and expiring foods (foods with life still in them) to be rescued and for our passionate generous food-runners who help make the whole thing happen.  We’re also super-grateful for compassionate, creative people like Debbie who do everything they can to make sure people in need get the most and best foods they can!

Why “Direct-Transfer” Food Rescue Is Such A Good Idea

We all know that it’s not always a straight line that connects where something is to where it needs to be, but when we plan out our days we still try to integrate as many “straight-lines” as possible.  You can get from Alabama to New Jersey through Nevada, but it’s not the ideal path right?

Community Plates started based on the idea that rescued foods would be best utilized by those who serve America’s food-insecure population (food-pantries and soup kitchens) if they received it as directly as possible.  This is why the one of three pillars of this food-rescue movement is “direct-transfer.”  Quite simply this means that rescued-food need not travel to any secondary location before it arrives at that place where hungry people get fed.  One year into this “Food-For-All” revolution this idea is showing real promise and may eventually prove lethal to American hunger.

Here’s just two reasons why direct-transfer food-rescue is such a good idea:

1.  Since food is not brought back to a warehouse to be sorted and stored,  Community Plates eliminates the overhead normally attached to physical locations and the employees it takes to staff those locations.  This supports our goal of building a sustainable, scalable platform.

2.  Since food eligible for rescue is often “ready to eat right now”, direct-transfer means that more of it will actually be eaten.  This is especially the case with fresh foods including produce which may only have 48 hours of life left when they’re rescued (just as an example.)  Point A to B transfer means an apple or mango (or bag of lettuce, etc.) might be providing nourishment within hours of it’s rescue rather than taking the chance for increased spoilage and waste by being sorted and warehoused.

Technology and passionate generous people make this kind of process possible.  American hunger better start looking for a new job!

What are other reasons why direct-transfer makes sense?

 

Looking for a Volunteer to Share Their Voice


Although I love sharing my experiences as a volunteer for Community Plates, I am just one voice.  One voice….one perspective and we want more. Whether a new volunteer or one has been helping out for some time, we want to read about your experiences.
Whether you rescue bins, share runs with others or started volunteering in a location that is just beginning to undertake Community Plates’ mission, we want you to share your story.  It may be your story that inspires a visitor to this blog to sign up and become a volunteer.
If you’re itching to write, please let us know.  We are looking to expand this blog to represent the various voices that help make Community Plates a growing community of giving people.

Do You Understand the Words Coming Out of Our Mouth?

There have been a few speaking-up type folks that have suggested we’ve got some lingo floating around at Community Plates that not everyone understands. It doesn’t take long before any organization creates new language and when a newcomer starts working with the organization their inability to understand these unique words can put them on the outside looking in.

Since one of CP’s core values is Simplicity the suggestion has been made that we do a real quick “lingo-recap.” It’s a good suggestion so I’ve asked Kevin to help clarify things:

NOTE: These are CP definitions and not legal or dictionary definitions

Food-Insecurity: The inability to provide for oneself or one’s family the amount and quality of food necessary for healthy living.

Food-Rescue: The heroic act of saving healthy edible food intended for dumpsters and landfills.

Direct-Transfer: The act of moving food from where it is rescued directly to where it can be used. The emphasis here is on cutting out the middle man anywhere possible in order to maximize the usability of the rescued food.

Run: What CP calls each individual pickup and delivery.

Adopting a Run: A more consistent commitment (but not life-long or unalterable) to a specific run that works well for the schedule of a CP food-runner.

Food-Runners: The passionate generous people who directly transfer rescued food and in the process end American food-insecurity one run at a time. The backbone of the CP food-rescue platform.

Food-Donors: Food service organizations who have healthy edible foods they are willing to allow food-runners to transfer to CP receiving agencies.

Receiving-Agencies: Food-pantries and soup-kitchens who are experts in taking care of those in need.

Food-Pantry: Hunger-relief partners who distribute groceries to individuals and families that will be prepared in their clients homes. In general they don’t distribute prepared foods.

Soup-Kitchen: Hunger relief partners who provide hot meals to individuals and families that are generally prepared and eaten on site. These agencies sometimes also have “take-home” or “take-to-work” options as well but these foods are still normally prepared at the agency site.

Sponsor: Individuals and corporations who see the promise of direct-transfer food-rescue and contribute their energies and monies to advance the cause in ways other than running food.

A “Run” Before Dawn

If you do not volunteer for Community Plates, you may not understand why I’ve put “run” in quotation marks.  A “run” is the act of picking up food from restaurants, schools and grocery stores and delivering it to a shelter or pantry.

When I was writing the ‘Let’s Get Social’ blog post, I noticed one volunteer, Chris, had “adopted” (adopted is a volunteer who takes on a scheduled run week-after-week) the Friday 5:45 a.m. run to pick-up produce at Rubin Brothers Produce in the Bronx to drop-off at the East End Community Center in Bridgeport.  As a foodie, I was fascinated by a run that traveled to a produce wholesaler, but admit I was more intrigued by the person who would want to adopt this kind of run.

I’m not a morning person.  I’m especially not a morning person in the winter.  Getting up from underneath the down comforter to bump into a wall because it’s still dark out is not my idea of fun.  I’ve done it in the past when I used to commute 90 miles one-way to work — or when I was a kid to watch my dad coach ice-hockey.  In those cases, I only got up at unseemly hours because it benefited me.

Chris gets up for someone else.  He gets up to help others he has never met, or probably will never meet.  He’s not getting up to go to his son’s ice hockey practice, work, or train for a marathon (he may be training for one, but we didn’t discuss that).  He’s helping complete strangers who can’t provide food for themselves before he even starts his day at the office.

Because I was curious, I think I may have asked more questions than any one person should have to answer that early in the a.m., but he answered every one of them.  I found out he read about Community Plates in a newspaper article and began volunteering his time right away.  He was looking for an organization where his contribution would make an immediate impact – and it does.  I saw firsthand how dropping off crates of fresh produce can put a smile on someone’s face.

During our ride, we talked about various topics, and I learned how Chris has lived in several areas of the country before moving here to Fairfield County.  It was when we were talking about his move that something he said struck a chord with me.  He reminded me of how Fairfield County, aka the Gold Coast of Connecticut, has an interesting demographic.  For instance, Greenwich has some of the wealthiest people in the nation, and the next town over, Stamford, has several food pantries and shelters that serve thousands of people in significant need.  Having grown up in the area, I’ve never really thought too much about this.  I guess I assumed most metropolitan areas are similar, but learned from his experiences how this is something of an anomaly. With so much abundance in the area he said volunteering for Community Plates keeps things in perspective and grounds him in his very busy and blessed life.

I did pose the question of “why this run”?   He told me he grew up in Queens, knew where he was going, knew there was no real traffic on the way down at that time of morning and knew he would definitely make a difference with this run.

Would I do this run again?  Yes.  But under the condition Chris drives again.  I really didn’t know what to expect when I signed up to tag along, but I met a person who is interesting, excited about what Community Plates is accomplishing and reminded me of how one person’s selfless actions can have such a positive impact on so many others.

Food-Rescue Really Makes a Difference (Actual Customer Comments)

One thing that is a little bit different about our food-rescue platform is that often our food-runners aren’t able to hear from and connect much with the people who actually benefit from their food-rescue activities.  Since the food is directly transferred to agencies who already do such a good job serving food-insecure individuals and families, it’s possible to get a little disconnected from the real difference all of this driving and picking up and transferring and dropping off makes.

So recently we’ve been reaching out to the 13 agencies (as of February 2012) we currently serve in order to find out how we’re doing.  Because we’re not in the food-rescue business to build a large non-profit; we’re not in it to be recognized for being good people doing good things;  the only reason we all do what we do is because we really believe that food-rescue can end food-insecurity in the US.

There’s more than enough food to go around and there’s more than enough passionate, generous people to transfer that food.  After 9 months of food-rescue we have confirmed those two statements to be true.

But is it making a difference?

Within the past couple of weeks two different conversations from two different Executive Directors at two agencies we serve helped answer that question.

Recently in a conversation with Debbie Stokes the food-pantry director of the St. Stephen’s food pantry in Bridgeport, CT.  She let us know that because of Community Plates they are able to send their clients home with much more variety than ever before, and that they are all especially excited about the fresh fruits and vegetables.  In a recent communication she went on to say “Let me share this exciting news with you.  Last week when we opened most of the produce went right away. We had very little left the next day. But here is the best part; folks loved the food we had!  I was so thrilled.  We let the guests pick their fruit and produce just as if they were in the grocery store…it’s really making a difference in the lives of our guests.”

She went on to pass on some actual comments from individuals who access their food pantry:

This is the best variety we’ve ever had!”
“This is very good for diabetics.” (This comment from a diabetic who was excited about the fresh foods)
“We love the fresh fruit and produce!  Fruit is so expensive in the store.”

Another amazing partner of ours is Christian Community Action in Norwalk, CT.  CCA is directed by Christi Pope and her statement regarding the importance of Community Plate’s activity though more simple was just as powerful.  Christi said “now that we receive two deliveries a week from Community Plates we are able to send our clients home on average with one full extra bag of food.”

We’ll be having more conversations all the time and we’ll make sure to keep everyone in the loop on how things are going.

But for now…

Food-rescue heroes: food donors, food-runners, food-distribution partners; what you are doing matters in a real way.

Matt Storch and Match – A Dining Mainstay in Fairfield County

 

 

I had the opportunity to talk with Matt Storch from Match Restaurant.  Match is Community Plates’ first food donor and very instrumental and invaluable in opening the door to other businesses CP receives donations from today.  However, I didn’t want to talk to Matt about the donations he makes, but wanted to know more about more about the person and restaurant behind all the generosity.

As a Norwalk native, I’ve always considered Match a solid mainstay in the Fairfield County food scene since it opened in 1999.  Originally opened with 4 partners, Match has been considered as the place to go to have a great late night upscale pizza after a few cocktails.  As Match’s popularity grew, its partnership and kitchen changed.  Matt was enticed to leave Miramar (a Todd English restaurant in Westport) and run the kitchen at Match.  Shortly after coming over, he re-designed the kitchen and menu, but kept some of the classics Match patrons had grown to love.  Today, Match is owned by Matt and Scott Beck.

Matt shared with me his childhood travels, cooking internships starting at 13, education at the Culinary Institute of America and working with Todd English at many of his restaurants.  I also learned how his favorite food is anything “fresh and made with passion and love”.  Ultimately, he has created a menu at Match which is reflective of his background and beliefs: fresh and innovative.  In addition to updating his menu 5 times a year, he mixes up his menu several nights a week offering patrons ½ priced bottles of wine on Sunday evenings, burger night on Thursdays and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays a special themed menu reflecting foods from the places he’s traveled to, or restaurants he enjoys.  This week, Matt featured a menu from Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant in Miami Beach.  Next week he’ll be featuring an indulgent, yet playful menu for Valentine’s Day with items such as foie gras, caviar and using beet juice for coloring.  After the holiday, Matt plans to bring a taste of Costa Rico, Ecuador, Spain, and Vietnam on these themed weeknights.  Check out his website (http://www.matchsono.com) for the night’s specials or upcoming theme nights.

He also told me how he enjoys being out in the dining room the evenings he’s working.  He gets feedback from patrons and often the feedback ends up being on his menu.  Remember how burgers became the craze several years ago? Well, customers would ask Matt when was he planning on adding a burger to the menu. He listened, and now, on Thursday evenings, he creates the freshest burgers and word-of-mouth has him selling out.

After talking with Matt, I reached out to friends for their opinion and the resounding response I kept getting over-and-over was “YUMMMMM” (one friend even sent me a picture of a dish she ordered recently).  I could hear his passion for food during our conversation.  Combine the passion with how food has been such an integral part of his life since childhood, and you know Matt could only create dishes people continually come back for.

 

Match is located at 98 Washington Street, South Norwalk, CT, (203) 852-1088 and reservations can be made online at http://www.matchsono.com.


A Community Plates Food-Runner’s Video Goes Viral

There are several really cool things about Giorgio:

1.  He wears super-awesome hats

2.  Every Saturday he and Michelle rescue food from Trader Joe’s in Fairfield CT and directly transfer it to the food-pantry at the Thomas Merton Center of Bridgeport.  As a result, people who are hungry get to take home some extra food (including hard to afford fresh fruits and vegetables.)

3.  He also just so happens to be a pretty crazy musician, vocalist and artist. (Okay Giorgio, now you’re just showing off!)

So all in all a pretty great and interesting guy, so we were really excited to find out that a video he just happened to upload to YouTube has almost a million views in about a week (actually combined with other places the video is listed, it’s more like 1.5 million).  That’s wild right?

So check the video out below and he’s on Ellen on Friday if you want to see him there.

Community Plates Food-Runner Sings His Order

“Fresh-Market Food Pantries” Mean More Healthy Food For The Hungry

At last week’s “Let’s Get Social” food-runner meetup, a few people asked me to explain one of the seven things Community Plates is “hyperfocused” on.

Hyperfocus item number 3 said Community Plates is actively engaged in “development of “Fresh-Market” food-pantries.”  So the question that came up a few times was “what’s a fresh-market food pantry and what difference do they make?”

Very simply (and I could go and on, just ask anyone) a fresh-market food-pantry is one who is intent on delivering produce, fruits and other fresh foods to the population they serve.  The sad reality is that eating healthy can be expensive and if people are struggling to put healthy food on a table then they are without a doubt finding it even more difficult to put the healthiest kinds of food on their families table.

But we just so happen to know a whole lot of people throwing useable foods just like these away.  And we know some amazing people (about 170 of you now) who are happy to pick that food up and directly transfer it somewhere it can be used.  Finally, we are also well aware of some wonderful food-pantries who are passionate and highly skilled in delivering food to and serving those most in need (about 13 receiving agencies so far in Fairfield County.)

This won’t be easy.  It will require intentionality and partnership.  Our Melissa Spiesman (Community Plates Program Coordinator) has made this her top priority and we have an agency we will let you all know about very soon who is committed to converting their pantry to this kind of model.  We can’t wait to get these fresh-foods in the hands of those who wouldn’t normally have access!

We said from the beginning that our food-rescue platform was committed not just to transferring more food but transferring more healthy foods.   Fresh-market food-pantries are an important step in that direction.

If this idea really rings your bell…give us a shout out.  Join the fresh-market revolution!