Melissa is Fairfield County’s New Site Director!

Fellow Fairfield-County Food-Runners,

When you have something as big on your plate as “ending American food insecurity” it’s nice to know you have the right people leading the charge.

With that in mind we are super excited to announce Melissa Spiesman as Fairfield County’s new site director! Melissa is a long time Fairfield County resident, is super passionate about making sure we rescue as much food as possible for Fairfield County’s hungry and we believe she is the right person at this important time.

Melissa started as a food-runner and most recently has served as our receiving agency coordinator, she was also on the Columbus advance team and provides receiving agency support for all of our sites.  Some of those roles (especially food-runner) she’ll continue to hold but her primary focus now is on developing a strong, sustainable, extra-productive food platform at our original site in Fairfield County.

In addition as we continue to learn how to best support our sites and provide resources to them she’ll be focused on working with our team to overcome obstacles, pursue new opportunities and document the whole process as we continue to develop our national food-rescue starter kit (aka “The Kit”).

This move will allow us to provide even better service to our food-runners, donors and receiving agencies in Fairfield County and allow me (Kevin) to provide better leadership to our whole team as we focus on 50 million Americans who don’t know where their next good meal is coming from.

So if you’re a Fairfield County food-runner you can look forward to hearing from Melissa! She’s ready and excited to hear from you.  Also if you’ve been looking for additional ways to get involved other than food-runner or feel like you have a skill set or passion that might benefit Fairfield County’s hungry….give Melissa a shout out!

Fairfield County food-rescue is going to a whole nutha’ level!

Food for all,

 

Kevin Mullins
Executive Director

 

There’s Even More (One Year Anniversary Reflections)

It was just about a year ago that we performed our first food-rescue.  We picked up a few pans of food from our first restaurant partner (we will always love you in that special way Match Restaurant of South Norwalk, Connecticut) and delivered them to a soup-kitchen down the road.  This year has been about becoming informed and further connected to the cause of food-insecurity and even more excited about the promise of direct-transfer food-rescue.

One year in, if we had to give a synopsis of what we’ve learned it would be…

There’s Even More

1.  There’s even more food going to waste than we originally thought.  We got started because we knew good food (that could potentially feed hungry American families)  was going to waste.  We had no idea how much food it would actually be!  We’ve rescued almost a million pounds of food now and most of that was rescued just in our launch location of Fairfield County, before we added our new two sites in Albuquerque and Columbus.  This year’s number will be double or more.   A recent study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that Americans throw away as much as 40 percent of their food.

2.  People are even more willing to help that we thought they would be.  We had an idea that there were a good group of passionate people who wanted to make a difference but we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that people are even more generous with their time and energy than we could have ever hoped.  Up against the bad news of the rapidly escalating problem of food-insecurity in the United States, here’s some good news;  we are learning that there are more than enough generous people to turn back that tide and make this unnecessary problem go away.

3.  There’s even more reason to believe that hunger in the U.S. is a problem with an expiration date. Although we haven’t yet wrapped our head around the very different problem of world hunger, we are even more convinced than when we started that hunger in the U.S. is a simple problem of logistics and that a volunteer-driven, technology-fueled, direct transfer food-rescue platform can form the backbone of a “Food For All” movement that ultimately brings an end to our neighbors and friends going without the most basic of needs.

How has the last year been even more than you expected?

Elm Restaurant Begins Serving Their Community Through Food-Rescue

Another Wednesday equals another exciting addition to our food-donor roster! Elm Restaurant in New Canaan is our newest food-rescue partner and we can’t wait to see what delicious foods Community Plates food-runners will get to transfer to hungry people starting very soon.

Chef Brian Lewis and the Elm team serve modern American cuisine that is “rooted in tradition, inspired by the seasons”.  Elm’s 80 seat restaurant features the chef’s ever-changing menus using products from local farmers, foragers and artisans as well as specialty, imported ingredients.  Elm is open nightly for dinner and has just begun serving lunch daily as of today! (Wednesday, May 15th)  Chef Lewis, best known for his collaboration with actor Richard Gere in creating The Barn and The Farmhouse at Bedford Post has a great interest in making sure no food goes to waste and Elm’s community focus makes joining the “Food-For-All” food-rescue revolution a natural fit.

Elm is our first New Canaan (CT) restaurant but hopefully not our last!  Call and make a reservation for a night (or afternoon) at Elm soon and while you’re there say thank you for their commitment to taking care of those in need in their community.

Barcelona and Bartaco Restaurants Join the Food-Rescue Revolution!

We are super excited to announce that Barcelona Wine Bar and Bartaco restaurants are now official food-donation partners of Community Plates!  Five different receiving agencies (and more important the food-insecure people they serve) in Fairfield County, CT will now be receiving unused rescued food at least two times per week.

In addition to rescuing even more food in Norwalk and Stamford these five new locations include our first regular restaurant food-rescues in Greenwich and Fairfield!  The Fairfield connection will help us deliver even more food to Bridgeport and Fairfield (where we currently serve five different receiving agencies) and moves us closer toward our coming expansion into Westchester County, NY.

We’re looking for food-runners to log-in right away to CP “The App” and pick up these rescues that begin on Tuesday May 15th.

Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar is an award winning Spanish tapas restaurant group located throughout Connecticut, from the greater New York region to West Hartford and New Haven.  These restaurants feature decor that evoke Milan, Soho or Rio de Janerio, simple, flavor-filled dishes and a comprehensive list of wines by the glass from around the world.

Bartaco features land and sea taco creations, simple and well crafted drinks served in a light breezy decor reminiscent of a contemporary beach resort.

We highly recommend you visit one of the locations of these new generous partners and when you’re there make sure to thank them for caring enough to make a difference for the hungry in their communities!

“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.