A Plate Replaces the Pyramid

The USDA announced yesterday that the traditional food-pyramid has been replace by “My Plate.”

“The US government has ditched its two-decade old pyramid model for healthy eating and introduced a new plate symbol half filled with fruits and vegetables to urge better eating habits.

The colorful design, called MyPlate, was unveiled by first lady Michelle Obama.

The plate icon is sectioned into four parts, with fruits and vegetables making up one half and grains and proteins filling the other half. A dairy drink is included alongside.”


I guess it’s not surprising that at Community Plates we love this idea.  Because….well:

1.  We have a particular fondness for plates!
2.  This makes a whole lot more sense.  We don’t eat off of pyramids, we eat off of plates!
3.  This is actually a very helpful graphic for explaining how we pursue potential food-donors.  The community organizations that we provide food to, who in turn serve the food-insecure are in need of all of these food groups, roughly in the percentages this plate-icon demonstrates.

So way to go USDA and Michelle Obama!

What To Do With Food Waste (EPA Report)

Earlier this week I went to the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago.  It was overwhelming in size and since I went with my eyes focused on food-rescue, I was also overwhelmed by the opportunities there.

Sometime on Monday I ran into some fellow food-insecurity advocates who made me aware of a recent report by the U.S. EPA whose recent report “Waste Not, Want Not: Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste Through Food Recovery (PDF)” confirms many of the things we’ve been saying about food waste and the opportunity that lies within it for the cause of hunger in America.

I found this little graphic from the report especially helpful:

EPA Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy

food hierarchy represented by inverted triangle with source reduction at the top, followed by feed people, feed animals, industrial uses, composting, and last landfill/inceration

This inverted recommendation-pyramid points out that our most common solution for food-waste (dumpsters to landfills) should actually be our last resort and maybe even more helpfully places “feeding hungry people” all the way at the top.

The report makes it clear…DISPOSAL SHOULD BE OUR LAST OPTION.

WhenToManage Launches Non-Profit Focused on Ending Food-Insecurity Through Food Rescue

Restaurant Software Company gives back with technology

Quote startOur impetus for starting Community Plates was the realization that food-insecurity in the United States is not a problem of insufficient resources, but rather a problem of logistics.Quote end

Norwalk, CT (PRWEB) May 19, 2011

In response to the rising number of Americans currently struggling to afford adequate food supplies, WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions, a restaurant software provider, recently founded Community Plates Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to ending American food-insecurity through food rescue.

The Community Plates food-rescue platform launched in Norwalk, Connecticut in January 2011 and is now regularly transferring surplus foods from restaurants, grocers and other food-service organizations to local community organizations that serve the area’s food-insecure population. Norwalk is the launch site for Community Plates, which will be expanding to other parts of the United States as early as the fall of 2011. In coordination with WhenToManage, web and mobile apps are currently in production to help increase the safety, efficiency and productivity of Community Plates’ donors and volunteers.

“As we interacted with our restaurant clients we became aware of the tremendous opportunity that existed in transferring healthy foods that might have otherwise been thrown away to the places where that food was desperately needed,” said Jeff Schacher, WhenToManage’s Founder and CEO. “Because of high unemployment numbers and rising food costs, according to recent USDA reports more than 50 million Americans and 1 in 5 children under the age of 5 are now classified as food-insecure. Our impetus for starting Community Plates was the realization that food-insecurity in the United States is not a problem of insufficient resources, but rather a problem of logistics.”

Community Plates is currently developing donor relationships with local and national restaurants, grocers and other food-service related organizations, with the goals of increasing their partner soup-kitchen’s and food-pantries serving capacity and reducing the amount of money currently committed to their food-budgets. “There are already great organizations in our communities serving the hungry people we are focused on helping,” said Kevin Mullins, Executive Director at Community Plates. “Our goal then is to rescue enough food so they can serve everyone in need and in the process free up the money they would have been spending on food so that it can be re-appropriated to other needs, such as job-training and housing services.”

About WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions
WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions is a leading provider of back-office software for the restaurant industry. WhenToManage offers scalable solutions that simplify point-of-sale reporting, inventory management, and employee scheduling, with an emphasis on connecting the people and the data in an organization. WhenToManage helps operators by giving them real-time, online reporting, monitoring, and alerts of their sales and labor data from their POS, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. WhenToManage is passionate about helping their clients solve their problems, improve their operations, and increase their profitability. For more information, visit http://www.whentomanage.com.

About Community Plates Inc.
Community Plates Inc., headquartered in Norwalk CT, is a 501(c)(3) national-nonprofit focused on ending American food-insecurity through food-rescue. Food-insecurity, the type of hunger most typical in the U.S., is the inability to provide adequate amounts of food for oneself or one’s family. Food-rescue is accomplished through a platform comprised of passionate, generous donors and volunteers and the best technology available to maximize and simplify their efforts. Community Plates initial launch-site is in Norwalk, CT with plans for expansion to other U.S. cities in the fall of 2011. For more information, visit http://www.foodrescueus.wpengine.com.


The New Face of Hunger

In a recent USA Today article on “suburban hunger” and the recent economic downturn’s lingering effect on many American families, Christie Garton writes:

“After job losses, home foreclosures, mounting debt and bills some can no longer afford to pay, families such as theirs have become part of the new face of hunger in America.

Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America says there is a growing problem with suburban poverty, “where new clients are individuals who have never needed to rely on the charitable food system.”

Hunger has been a challenge in the U.S., even when the economy is running on all cylinders.

At the end of the economic boom in 2007, 13 million people or about 11% of all households were considered “food insecure,” the official term used by the government to define one’s inability to access an adequate amount of nutritious food at times during the year.

“Not everyone who is food insecure is literally going hungry,” says Mark Nord, sociologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. “Some are able to head off hunger by reducing the quality and variety of their diets. But if food insecurity is severe or prolonged, it is likely to result in hunger.”

Reposted from http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2011-05-10-new-face-of-hunger-food-assistance_n.htm

This confirms an observation one of our local community-organization’s Executive Director shared with me.  She had noticed that a good amount of the soup-kitchen/food-for-work program’s current clients were formally people who had themselves volunteered to feed hungry people previously.  She described it as a “changing of the guard.”

It’s also helpful for people with an eye on ending American food-insecurity to note that not everyone we are trying to serve right now (people we classify as “food-insecure”) is going hungry everyday or even every week.  All of them however have missed meals as a result of being financially able to provide it for themselves and their families and more importantly, “food-insecurity” is what comes right before going hungry. In this regard our food-rescue work is about cutting hunger off at the pass.

You can help.

Please Don’t Sue Me For Doing Good (Food-Rescue Objection #2)

Just a few minutes ago, when I finished talking to a potential donor about the problem of food-insecurity in the US and our chance to bring it to an end through food rescue, he asked the the question that is one of the big three; “If we donate food, what is our liability?”

It made sense that the “sue” question would be top of mind for him because Americans sue Americans over everything.  His concern is even more valid as it regards food since there’s so much that can go wrong with keeping food healthy for people to eat.  We take the liability issue especially seriously since many of the food-insecure people our platform serves are labeled as “high-risk”; specifically the elderly and young children.

Now a post for another day will be to explain what I mean by “we take the liability issue seriously.”  In that post I can talk a little bit about our efforts to become educated on food-safety, including getting the proper certifications etc.

But for now, let me be really clear in answering this question:

If you donate food in good faith to organizations who serve the food-insecure there is no liability to you or your company!

That’s none as in zero!

This good news comes to the food-insecure of the US as a result of  The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act signed into law into 1992 as well as similar laws in almost all US states (including Connecticut.)  The law is long and verbose but simply it protects good-faith donors from civil and criminal liability should the product donated later cause harm to its recipient.

This means you can donate with your mind at ease.

When the number of people in Fairfield County (the site of Community Plate’s first food-rescue site) have swelled to almost 100 thousand people and nationally the numbers are over 50 millon and growing, we need some good news…and being able to be generous without the risk of a lawsuit later is just part of it.

This restaurant and catering manager immediately got a big smile on his face when I answered his question.

If it makes you smile too then join us!



Fairfield County Food-Insecurity (the numbers)

We’ve been doing a lot of talking with people all over Fairfield County about ending food-insecurity in the US through food-rescue, starting right here and very often people want to know “how many people are we actually talking about?”

Here’s one set of numbers that may help give us all a better idea of what hunger looks like right here and right now.

Recently Feeding America undertook the Map-the-Meal-Gap project (funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and The Nielsen Company) to take a look at the numbers at the local community level.  As a result, we have the chance to learn the specifics about how poverty and hunger effect the people of Fairfield County Connecticut.

Here’s what it says:

1.  11.2% of the county’s population is food-insecure (too many)
2.  That means almost 100,000 people (far too many)
3.  46% of that 100,000 fall below the SNAP threshold of 185% poverty (read more about how poverty levels are measured here, but that just means they are severely food-insecure.)
4.  It would take over 49 million dollars to meet the food needs of our county’s hungry. (This is why we are committed to making sure no good usable food-sources are wasted. There’s more than money that can fix this problem.)

Just for space I’ll keep it bird’s eye view for this post but if you’re interested in digging deeper into the numbers check out Feeding America’s site here.

Yes, we’ve got hunger.  Right here in Norwalk.  Right here in Stamford.  Right here in Bridgeport.  And it’s not just the homeless.  Among that 100,000 are people just like you and me.  People who are working, sometimes more than one job, sometimes multiple-income families.  When it gets bill-paying time however, they are deciding between paying the electric bill, putting gas in the car to go to work and buying food for their family.

This doesn’t have to be.  Join us!

One Bite At A Time (Food-Rescue Objection #1)

Food-Rescue LettuceHave you ever noticed how much easier it is to list all the reasons a new idea won’t work than it is to see why it just might?  I’ve spent half of my adult life in meetings where at some point those gathered are asked to be brilliant on the spot and I’ve realized that it’s just a lot easier to poke multiple holes in other people’s ideas than it is to form one good one of my own.

Now that Community Plates is a few months into our mission of ending American food-insecurity through food-rescue, we’ve already encountered quite a few objections to why this is a good way to attack hunger.  Almost all of them are valid, well thought out and helpful which provides us an opportunity to respond to a few of them so that we can all be better informed and charged-up to help.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Food-Rescue Objection Number 1:  “The small amount of food we discard can’t possibly make that big a difference.”

I’ve heard this several times already as I’ve approached restauranteurs, caterers and grocers here in Norwalk, Connecticut (the location of Community Plates launch site/pilot)and the surrounding Lower Fairfield County area.  I don’t get the impression that anyone is trying to avoid being generous; on the contrary, my experience with those who are hesitant to donate has been finding people that are eager to help but just reluctant to waste our volunteer’s time.  As we consider the numbers however and through some early food-rescue experiences, we are finding that small amounts can indeed make a big difference.

I remember a friend (it really was a friend and not me, I promise) telling me how he got his first credit card as a freshman in college and how he worked himself into a whole load of debt by charging dollar tacos on his new card.  He literally worked his way into financial stress one taco at a time.

So let’s call it the “Taco-on-a-Visa” principle:

We know from multiple studies (read an article referencing one USDA study here) that almost 25% of the food available to Americans is thrown away; over 34 million tons a year.   But when you talk to people who purvey food you’ll find that everyone is trying to do everything they can to conserve and cut their waste.  So how then do we get to that humongous amount of waste every year?  One way it happens is by discarding a little bit here and a little bit there.  I can imagine a chef or catering manager throwing food away and thinking to themselves “this is just too little to worry about.”

In some ways they’re right; unless of course there were people who would concern themselves with the little; this crate of apples here, those two bags of salad there, a few loaves of delicious end-of day bread, etc.

Community Plates is developing a logistical platform that engages those kinds of people. Food and financial donors and volunteers and community agencies who believe that we can end food-insecurity the same way we throw mountains of food away every year;  a little bit at at time.

A small amount here and a small amount there can create something big for someone!

Over 50 million Americans are counting on us.

Now That I Think About It…

The thing about food that we discard is that we don’t really think about it. When a commodity is in surplus, it’s natural to not pay attention to what happens to whatever is leftover after we’re done with it.   My family has a couple of items that we buy once a month from a warehouse-style retailer and I realized recently that early in the month I don’t really notice how many bottles of sparkling water are left (just to name one item) when I grab one off the shelf.  When it gets toward the end of the month however I find myself counting the bottles and rationing myself until we make our big once-a-month trip.  I just don’t think about it when I’ve got plenty.

This same thing seems true when talking to managers in the food-service industry about our desire to partner toward the cause of ending American food-insecurity through food-rescue.  Initially, most of them will say “we really don’t throw that much food away but I’m happy to let Community Plates rescue the little bit that we do” but usually after a little more conversation they’ll end up saying things like “actually we do throw this item away fairly often” and “now that I think about it, twice a month we have this or that event that usually results in a fair amount of surplus.”

So that’s what we’re focused on right now;  just to get us thinking about this fast-growing problem of food-insecurity in the US and more hopefully our ability to bring it to an end. If we could all  just spend a little bit of time thinking about the food-resources we have access to and what happens to that food when we’re done with it, I believe we will discover enough food to make a real difference for hungry Americans.


Food-Insecurity and the Hierarchy of Needs

You never know when Abraham Maslow may make a visit.

It had been years since I had thought of Professor Maslow who you may remember as the father of modern psychology and the creator of the ground-breaking thinking he described as the human “hierarchy of needs.”

The hierarchy of needs very simply focuses on a pyramid of human needs ranging from the most basic (things like shelter, security, love and esteem) to the more advanced; self-actualization and self-transcendence.  Now there’s much debate about how he arranges things and even some doubt among modern psychologists about the overall veracity of some of his ideas in general.   What’s not challenged however is his basic idea; if people are to reach higher levels of fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction, the most basic needs must be met first.

Kind of makes sense right?  If you’re hungry, I mean really hungry, at that moment you’re less concerned with being respected or realizing your full potential.  All you’re worried about right then is…I need to eat.

So Maslow’s need pyramid came to mind over the last couple of days as I’ve met with volunteers and agency directors to discuss the vision and promise of Community Plates; this platform for connecting rescued food from those places where it is currently wasted to where it can be of the greatest use; serving the over 50 million Americans who are classified as food-insecure.

Community Plates adresses this need structure in at least two ways:

1.  As we support our receiving agencies:

One of the original problems that necessitated our action was hearing directors of community organizations saying “we are experiencing the perfect storm of rising demand from the food-insecure, coupled with rising food costs, coupled with declining financial donations.”  One of our objectives then became reducing the food-costs of our receiving agencies to as close to zero as possible.

2.  As our receiving agences are able to reallocate their budgets:

If we are able to accomplish the above “zero-food-budget” objective, then our partner agencies in turn are able to take the newly-freed up funds and spend them on things like job-programs and rehabilitation and achievement in education (just to mention a few worthy expenditures) for the populations they serve.

Right now, many of the organizations and their budgets are enslaved to the bottom rung of the needs hierarchy.  Community Plates and its generous donors and Food Runners can make a difference here.

We need your help.  Come join the cause!

Start here at www.foodrescueus.wpengine.com

No Reason For Hunger In Norwalk Connecticut

Picture of HungerLast week when our donor coordinator submitted her staff bio for the new website she included a quote from New York Congressman Jose Serrano that really encapsulates the reason that Community Plates was founded.

As we’ve begun this journey now in creating a simple-to-use logistical and technological food-rescue platform this statement really sums it up:

In a country with an overabundance of food, no one should go hungry because of a lack of funds or technical and professional knowledge. We have the food, and we have the networks; we now need to support the providers.

And by the way, it’s not only in Norwalk Connecticut that hunger is unnecessary and without reason; hunger is also senseless in cities, towns and villages all across the country.  Join with us in bringing an end to a serious problem with no good reason to be.