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!

“Oh The People You’ll Meet”

To quote Dr. Seuss, the people I met at last night’s “Let’s Get Social” event at Community Plate’s new home is the best phrase I know to describe the experience I had.

Last week’s post was about wanting to share experiences from other runners I would meet and eventually have their voice fill the pages of this blog.  However, I think I may have set higher expectations of what volunteers thought I wanted to hear when I talked with them.

Although Kevin had an amazing experience (http://communityplate.wpengine.com/blog/2011/08/11/delivering-out-of-the-ordinary-opportunities/) and was able to see how food he dropped off to the Open Door Shelter became dinner that evening; I came away with a richer experience from the volunteers at the Let’s Get Social gathering.

Every person I talked with was excited because they knew they made a difference.  Whether it was dropping off food to shelters, or delivering bins from shelters to donors, everyone knew and understood what they were doing made a direct impact in someone’s life.

What amazed me most was how people found out about Community Plates.  When I went to the first volunteer meeting in July 2010, there were a small handful of volunteers.  Last night the room was filled and every person I talked with heard about CP from a different source. Janine told me she found out about CP through an article in the Connecticut Post; Katrina through talking with Stephanie Webster (CT Bites) while working out at the gym; and Terry, a brand new volunteer, signed up with her friend, Diane, who read about CP through Backyard Humanitarian.

I also learned from many of the volunteers they have made their runs into a family affair.  Some bring their husbands and others bring their children because they want them to understand the importance of doing work that makes a difference for those in need.

At the end of the evening, I left knowing people can and want to make a huge difference in stopping hunger in our area.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that through the efforts of CP runners, $316,072.50 in food was rescued in under 7 months (most of this was accomplished between September and December 2010).  Just imagine how much money CP will rescue in food at the end of 2012 with its expansion into Westchester County, NY, New Haven County, CT, Columbus OH and  Albuquerque, NM!

“Let’s Get Social” (Next Week’s Food-Runner Meetup)

As a volunteer, and the current volunteer voice of the Community Plates’ blog, I am really looking forward to next Thursday’s event, January 26th, 6:00 pm, at 76 South Main Street, Norwalk (CP’s new home).

I remember bringing my husband to the first volunteer meeting this past summer, but I admit I was incredibly timid and talked to very few people.  I had met Kevin at a CT Bites event in May, loved hearing what Community Plates wanted to do for area food-pantries, soup-kitchens and shelters and decided to volunteer.

Since then, I’ve adopted a weekly run, attended CP’s first gala with friends this past October, been sharing my experiences on CP’s blog, and using the CP food-rescue application to sign-up for additional food runs.    I have to admit, ever since the application has been posted, I’ve been looking at Community Plates differently.

Besides signing up for food runs, I’ll look at the runs and questions begin swirling around in my head.

For instance, I’m a foodie and think doing a run to Rubin Brothers Produce would be fascinating from all the early morning activity.   However, as fascinated as I am, I know I’m directionally challenged and am not a morning person.  The run is in the Bronx, but I’d end up Jersey City.  I’ve seen the name Chris associated with this run and would love to know what his experience has been with it.

I see runs to grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops and fast-food places.  I see people adopting runs as teams and constantly want to know what their experience is like.

As I see people’s names associated with runs on the food rescue schedule, I’m realizing there is more to Community Plates than a non-profit rescuing food in our area. Community Plates is becoming a community of people, each with a different story, from a different walk of life, all wanting to do something to help put an end to hunger in our area.

My name is Joan and although I currently provide posts for this blog from the volunteer’s point of view, I think it’s time to share stories from others.  Just as the number of runs and volunteers has grown over the months, I want the volunteer voice of this blog to grow from stories you share.  I want to put a face to the names I’ve seen or heard about; I want to know your story.   In fact, if you’re reading this blog, leave your name in the comment section with the run(s) you handle(d) and I’ll find you next Thursday.

I look forward to talking with as many people as I can on the 26th. — Joan

 

The Holiday Season – Making Unexpected Connections

The Holiday season has a tendency to bring out the worst in people.  This year has proven this theory in spades when I heard about a woman using pepper spray to get an item she wanted while shopping on Black Friday.

Personally, I don’t get this.

I guess I’m one of those individuals who find the true spirit of the holiday season in the quiet, yet unexpected, heartwarming relationships you build with another person.  It hasn’t happened to me for many years, but this year, it has and in the most unlikely way.

I’m a regular runner for Community Plates.  Every Thursday, I pick up the generous donations from Whole Foods in Darien and deliver them to Wilson’s Pantry in Stamford.  In my personal life, I have a tendency to be a bit shy.  I’ll smile, say hi and tell people I’m with Community Plates and am dropping off food from Whole Foods.

I’ve been doing this run for many weeks, but never really gave much thought that I was making a connection with anyone at the shelter.  However, last week when I pulled up, this man was just about to tell me to move my car, but within seconds of pulling up, my main contact (I don’t know his name) came running out and said “No, no, she’s with Community Plates and has a donation for us”.

What I find interesting is that I’ve only mentioned on my first delivery, I’m from Community Plates because every other drop off, this man flies up the basement stairs and as quickly as I pull up and pop my trunk, he’s emptied out its contents.

I still don’t know this man’s name, but that’s okay.  After all these weeks, I didn’t realize that a smile, saying hello, thanks, and see you next week could have created a very strong bond for me.

I knew my original reason for volunteering for Community Plates was to rescue food and put it in the hands of people that would use and appreciate it.  But I love the added benefit of connecting with the people who receive the donations.  I didn’t expect it and find it the best gift of all this holiday season.

–Joan

Community Plates is Hiring!

Community Plates Needs You!

As always one of our most important needs is food runners, volunteers to transport food…..food runners are the backbone of everything we do.

However because volunteer-driven, direct-transfer food rescue has proben to be such a “right place and right time opportunity”, things are growing fast and we are in need of the following positions. These are initially volunteer positions, but we hope to make several of them paid positions in the coming months  (some of them as early as first quarter 2012) once we can afford to do it.

Some of you have said “I want to help in other ways”, so check these job descriptions out and if you’re interested in being a part in this way let us know!

Office Administrator

  • Key person to help the Executive Director organize schedules
  • Communication
  • Data Entry
  • Light bookkeeping
  • Filing
  • Can split time between home and Community Plates office in Norwalk
  • Coordinate with donors and receiving agencies
  • Food-Rescue supply management
  • 15+ hours per week
  • Social-media savvy a plus but not required

Web Engineer

  • PHP/JQuery/MySQL
  • A few hours per week
  • Remote is fine

Fundraising Partners

  • Raise awareness for American food-insecurity and the promise of volunteer-driven, direct-transfer food-rescue
  • help raise money to advance the cause of ending food-insecurity in Fairfield County
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national fundraising strategy

Volunteer Coordinator

  • manage volunteer recruiting, on-boarding, training, scheduling
  • oversee app engagement and work-flow for volunteers
  • Own an iPhone or an iPad and comfortable using it
  • 15+ hours per week
  • Remote is fine (occasional staff-meetings might require in-office)
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national volunteer-strategy

Donor Coordinator

  • Recruiting new donors, managing donor communication, and food donation process
  • 5+ hours per week
  • Remote is fine (occasional staff-meetings might require in-office)
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national donor strategy

Receiving Agency Coordinator & Development

  • Recruit, train and develop receiving agency (food-pantries, soup-kitchens) relationships
  • Recruit and inspire social-entrepreneurs to leverage Community Plate’s food sources for the purposes of new and creative ways to distribute those foods
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Partner with receiving agencies to help them with their processes
  • Manage ServSafe compliance
  • 8+ hours per week
  • Remote is fine (occasional staff-meetings might require in-office)
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national donor strategy

New Site Development Manager

  • Focused on opportunities outside of Fairfield County
  • New site research and selection process
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Development planning
  • Recruit initial local partners, volunteers, agencies, and donors (leading the way for other other Community Plates staff dedicated to those specific areas)
  • 8+ hours per week

We are also currently developing a team-member description for marketing and public relations in case you’d like to get a jump on that.

Be a part of ending American food-insecurity and have an amazing time doing it!

The Disappearing Middle Class and Need for Food Rescue

I openly admit I hate to watch the news.  Day after day, the format never changes.  Newscasters report of murder, rape, fires, thefts, political scandals – basically, all the things that can easily bring you down.  However, my husband is a news junkie and I’ll occasionally catch the news.

I become angry when they report the unemployment rate is at 9.1%, but they fail to count people like me.  The people who continue to be unemployed after the benefits run out and tap into savings and gifts from friends and family.  It really bothers me that the news only reports the number the government counts and forgets this large population which is now making up the disappearing middle class.

I’ve been hearing a lot more about this problem lately and know that the purse strings are tight in my household, but when I had a chance to visit Gillespie House last week with Kevin Mullins, Executive Director of Community Plates, it became clear just how real this problem has become.

Maryellen Estrada, Director of Gillespie Center in Westport, shared with us that this new economy has changed the dynamics of the people that come to the shelter for meals and food to take home.  Initially when she started at the shelter, it was mainly homeless people, but now, many are people who have fallen on hard times because of the economy.  Ones who once owned homes, rented apartments, traveled, are now scraping by and need the assistance.

In my humble opinion, food insecurity in the U.S. will continue to rise because of this new economy and the disappearance of the middle class.  I like the fact that Community Plates’ volunteers and the businesses Community Plates have partnered with help those in need by the simple concept of rescuing food and giving it to people in need.  — Joan

You Never Know

I recently went to Tanglewood (outdoor concert area in the Berkshires) to see Yo-Yo Ma perform and as I read the program, I noted the various organizations and people who donated over ten million dollars to keep this wonderful arena running. I began to look around at the people who came to the concert and noticed people wearing the latest fashions, great shoes, jewelry and looking as though they just stepped out of a beauty salon.  I bet everyone thought everyone in the area I was sitting in were affluent, or at least working, but they’d wrong.

My sister purchased my ticket for the concert, heck; she paid for my entire weekend.  Until 3 years ago, I was employed and could afford such luxuries, but now things are different and money is tight.  I wonder if the person sitting next to me would guess I was struggling.  He wouldn’t and I know most people would be surprised if they learned about people they know or even work with who may be struggling to make ends meet or put food on the table.

Don’t assume because someone is employed they don’t know where there next meal is coming from.  I was surprised during a conversation with a dear friend that they had accepted food from a local food pantry.  I guess I was surprised because they worked and just naturally assumed that although struggling financially with the extras, the basics were covered.  Wrong.

I’m happy there are food pantries that my friend can tap in to when needed, and I’m glad I volunteer for Community Plates, an organization that assists businesses that want to give excess food to shelters, but don’t have the manpower to drop off the food to local shelters.  If you, or know someone who would like to help others, but don’t have a lot of time – one hour a week or month will help people who you might know, but would never think needed the help.

Think about it.  Wouldn’t you help out a friend if you knew they needed you? — Joan