CPGALA 2011 is a Can’t Miss!!!

It’s our first “get-everyone together and celebrate” experience and I can’t wait!

Yes, it’s a fundraiser because even though we make every effort to keep costs low, the administration, supplies, technology development and expansion of this hunger-conquering food-rescue platform do cost money.  So if you can buy your ticket or become a sponsor it’s a big help!

There will be good music, great food and drink and very little speech-making but I think the best part will be getting to meet team members who I’ve only met in internet-land to this point and the opportunity to celebrate the good work that’s already happened and look forward to all the great food-rescue activity to come.

So if you haven’t got your ticket, would like to become a sponsor or know of someone who’d like to, here’s where you go:  CLICK HERE TO HELP!

See you there!

 

Ask a Friend, Family Member or Significant Other to Help Rescue Food!

When I decided to donate my time to Community Plates, I asked my husband to do a run with me (okay, I admit, I informed him that we were going to do a run together because I felt it important that he become involved.  Besides, you do things for the one you love because it’s important to them and he also knows I have no issues with him going off fishing various weekends of the year).  Because he works a lot of hours, he has limited time so we picked a Saturday morning run to Whole Foods in Darien.

According to the instructions we were given, we called ahead and picked up the donations where the staff had left them for us.  Although I had told my husband how amazing my run with Kevin to Trader Joes was earlier in the week, I knew he was thinking we were making a run for one solitary loaf of bread.  I knew we weren’t, but sometimes the ‘proof is in the pudding’ and I knew he had to see it for himself.

Luckily, there were large plastic bags (size of garbage bags) filled with packages of various types of bread (hot dog rolls, artisan breads, flat breads) and some baked goods we would drop off at the Open Door Shelter in Norwalk.  I don’t know what was more priceless – the donation from Whole Foods or seeing the enthusiasm in my husband how this stop could make such a difference to a large group of people.  It was like watching a light switch go off and sometimes all the talk in the world can’t flip a switch, but doing the run did.

Our total time at Whole Foods was probably 15 minutes.  Our total time bringing in the donations at Open Door Shelter was probably 5 minutes.  I didn’t time it, but believe we spent more time at the gas station after our run filling up the car.

Here are my thoughts – ask someone to come with you to do one run.  Tell them you’re only asking for them to do one run and watch their expression melt from: “I’m doing this because he/she is my friend/sibling or significant other” to “Wow, look at all this food that will help others and knowing they helped make a difference.”

— Joan

 

Delivering Out Of The Ordinary Opportunities

Recently I got to see (and participate in) what kind of real difference food-rescue can make.  It’s possible to just pick up and deliver food  yet be disconnected from  the results of the work one has done. It’s always nice to reconnect to the importance of the cause by seeing the results of one’s labor.

On a regular run to a Trader Joe’s location, I picked up a large load of food that included chicken breasts, fresh spinach and onions.  I didn’t pay close attention to those items at the time since my main purpose was to get the food where it needed to be and because these were just a few items among many.

I dropped off the items at The Open Door Shelter in Norwalk, which serves meals to not only the homeless population, but also to other food-insecure individuals and families from the area.   My job was done after loading in the bins.

A few hours later when I went back to pick up the bins I experienced a strong affirmation of the importance of food-rescue and the value of the direct-transfer feature of the Community Plates food-rescue platform.

As I was walking through the kitchen on the way to get our bins, Alex, one of the chefs there called me in with an excited  “Come in here and look!”  Alex opened up one side of the large ovens and pulled out a rack to reveal one of three very large trays of a delicious-smelling, tasty-looking dish.  The dish was primarily composed of the chicken, spinach and onions I had dropped off just a few hours before.

I was impacted first of all by how quickly a difference had been made.  The total time from food-transfer to people eating the food was probably less than five hours.  This “quick-hit” benefit has been confirmed on many subsequent food-rescues as well.  Secondly, I was impressed with the creativity of the chef.  He modified his previous plan for that night’s dinner when he received some high-quality ingredients.  This requires flexibility and imagination and on that day Alex had those in abundance.  Finally, I was encouraged that the residents and clients of The Open Door Shelter got a better meal on that day than they would have otherwise.  It wasn’t just healthier food, but just as importantly it tasted better and out of the ordinary.

How cool is it that we have the chance to make “out of the ordinary” differences in the lives of people who are struggling every day for the most basic of needs?

Unexpected Lasting Impressions

Yesterday I had the opportunity to pair up with Community Plates’ Executive Director Kevin Mullins for my first run.  Kevin had sent the volunteers a list of open ‘runs’ [a run is the pickup of food from a store or restaurant and delivering it to a local shelter (a runner makes these runs)] and Tuesday had an open run to Trader Joe’s in Darien needing 2 people.  I emailed Kevin asking him if I could team up with him for this run and met him at his office prior to the 2:30 pm pickup.

I have to admit, my motives for wanting to do this run with Kevin were twofold:  1) I wanted to go with someone who has done these runs before; and 2) I wanted to learn more about CP.

My expectations were that we’d pick up food and drop it off at a shelter, but I experienced a lot more.  I thought Community Plates won the lotto as Trader Joes’ staff brought out bin after bin of amazing items such as chicken sausage, ground meats and rib-eye steaks.  Other bins had wonderful produce and cereals.  Because of this generous donation , CP was able to drop off food at both Person-to-Person in Darien, CT and Open Door Shelter in Norwalk, CT feeding a lot of people in need.

In addition to just making a run, I got to meet Janet and Alex at Person-to-Person and Open Door Shelter, experiencing their gratitude and also the friendliness of the staff at Trader Joe’s.  It was obvious that the labor of filling up the 9 or 10 bins of great food was something they were happy to do for CP.  I think helping others is infectious, but in a good way.

While driving from the various locations, one of the most memorable conversations with Kevin was discussing the rib-eye steaks.  For many, buying a rib-eye is not something you really give a lot of thought to.  You may wait for them to go on sale if on a budget, but for the recipients who will benefit from this pick-up, imagine their surprise.  Imagine being transported from a basic meal of pasta, rice, or beans and enjoying a decadent rib-eye steak.  If, only for that one meal, a person struggling can feel pampered as the result of a runner taking 1 hour out of their day to pick up and drop off food. — Joan

How Easy is a Community Plates Run?

Very.

I admit, before I did my first run (a run is picking up food from a store or restaurant and dropping it off at a shelter or food pantry) I had heard at the volunteers’ meeting it was really simple and had my doubts.  I grew up believing phrases such as “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” and “if it sounds too easy, it’s probably too good to be true”.  I figured the founders of Community Plates were trying to encourage volunteers and not mention the true pitfalls of a run. However, as I learned last week, they weren’t hiding anything.  It really was as easy and fast as they said it would be.

I went on 2 runs last week.  The first one was to Trader Joe’s where I tagged along with Kevin Mullins.  Kevin is the Executive Director at Community Plates and I figured if anything went wrong, he’d quickly know what to do.  However, there was nothing that went wrong.  The process is streamlined.  Kevin called ahead and discussed the time Community Plates would come to the store.  We pulled up at the loading dock of Trader Joe’s and the staff of Trader Joe’s wheeled out Community Plates’ food bins with food in it.  Because Community Plates keeps its food bins on the loading dock, there is never an issue of having to hand the staff bins and waiting for them to load them before heading out to a shelter or food pantry. We dropped off food at 2 places before I headed back to my car at the Community Plates parking lot.  This run with 2 stops and some conversation after the run took about 1 hour.

My second run was a solo job.  I had no one to rely on to show me the ropes, but after seeing how streamlined the Trader Joes’ run was, I had no doubts.  Saturday morning I called Whole Foods in Darien, learned they had some items, and drove over there.  I parked by the loading dock, walked in, went to the shelves labeled “Donations”, picked up bags of bread and headed back to my car to drop off at a shelter. It took about 10 minutes to load the car and head on my way to the shelter in Norwalk.  This run, including a stop off for gas, took about 40 minutes (and about 10 minutes was spent at the gas station because it was crowded).

Up till last week, I had never done anything like this and wouldn’t hesitate to tell people about my experience – how I had reservations about the ease of doing a run and how happy I am to be proven wrong.

–Joan

The “Perfect Vehicle” For Food-Rescue

Since the Community Plates food-rescue platform is entirely dependent on passionate, generous volunteers, likewise our ability to quickly make a dent in American food-insecurity is directly tied to our ability to add as many volunteers to our platform as possible.

In this process one question that comes up regularly when people are considering whether or not food-running is a good fit for them is “What kind of vehicle do I need to have?”

It’s an important question and we’re going to answer it pictorially.  Our crack research team has turned up the following photos that we hope will help those in the future who are trying to figure out if they’re vehicle is the right one for food-running.

(Note:  The point of this pictograph is related to size and capacity.  Any brand display is unintentional and is in no way an endorsement of any particular car company.)

This is THE PEFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE:

And…This is THE PERFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE:

And the PERFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE is…


And finally..the PEFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE

There you have it!  Everyone that has inquired (so far) has had the perfect vehicle for food-rescue and we’re betting you do too!  The cause is great and we need your help.  Join us!

 

Rescuing Food and One Benefit to the Volunteer

One of the cool things that’s happened as we’ve begun a food-rescue platform is that I’ve had the chance to perform many of the food-rescues myself.  I’ve told a few people recently who are toying with the idea of becoming a “food-runner” for Community Plates, “try it once and you’ll want to do it again and again.”  I speak from experience.

The benefits to the 100 thousand food-insecure people we are currently trying to serve and over 50 million we hope to serve over the next few years are obvious, but when I talk about getting “addicted” to food-running I’m speaking more about the way it benefits the one who performs the food-rescue; the volunteer.

There is a intrinsic benefit to the volunteer built into the food-rescue process.  In a word, it’s community.  Now I know the dictionary defines community as a group of people who have something in common; geography, culture, interests etc.  But what I have in mind is something more personal…more shared.

First of all, I look forward to seeing the people that I see on my regular runs, and I think that most of them look forward to seeing me.  When I walk through a restaurant kitchen and give a shout-out to the crew there or when I’m hanging out briefly on the loading dock at a grocery store, it’s more than just familiarity that makes us enjoy seeing each other, but the ongoing-realization that we are sharing something or joining together in accomplishing something important.

When I was away recently it all become clear.  I realized that these generous people, our donors who give and our partners who receive and distribute the food are becoming friends, and I missed seeing them.  And they’re not just “nodding-acquaintances” like you might run into on the elevator every day, but these are friends that are working with me to make a difference.

I can’t wait for my food-rescue runs later today!!!   Give it a try and you’ll do it again and again.

Kevin Mullins

Why Volunteer for Community Plates?

This is my story.  I plan on sharing my experiences of volunteering for Community Plates, but the real question is:  Why did I sign up to volunteer?

Years ago, I became very interested in 2 local non-profit organizations and wanted to help.  I was welcomed by each organization and asked to sit on their boards.  I have to admit I was a bit flattered because I thought my voice and efforts could have a direct impact on the organization.  I sat on the finance and fundraising committees and as I became more and more involved with the officers of the board, I became angry.  I volunteered for the cause, but quickly learned others didn’t.  Major board members volunteered to meet certain individuals who’d assist them in gaining a coveted country club membership.  It sickened me and I finished my term and was turned off from the concept of volunteering.

Since then, I’ve held jobs that required a lot of travel or a long commute leaving me precious spare time to accomplish my personal errands.  I admit, the sting of other people’s bad behavior still had me closed off to volunteering again.  I guess you’d say I became a ‘volunteer snob’.

Recently, I went to a lecture and after the talk was waiting in line when I struck a conversation with Kevin Mullins.  Kevin is the Executive Director of Community Plates (CP).  His passion for Community Plates was so infectious that he converted this ‘volunteer snob’.  I wanted to help, but thought it more important to focus on my job search than volunteer.  However, I soon realized I was talking about Community Plates to friends and family, blogged and tweeted about CP on a continuous basis.

Why had my random conversation with Kevin had such a great impact on me?  Other than Kevin being a great conversationalist, he conveyed CP’s simple mission:  Rescue food and bring it to those who need it.  I love that my direct action could have such a positive reaction.  Kevin is looking for volunteers to pick up food from restaurants or grocery stores CP has relationships with, and drop it off at shelters or food pantries.  I loved the idea, but fearful that I’d lose time focusing on my job search, I asked Kevin if my husband and I could volunteer for one run a month.  He said yes.

CP would love if people could volunteer for 1 run a week, but as Kevin told me he is grateful for all the help he can get.  In my case, I really wanted to do this with my husband, but he works multiple jobs and has very little time to spare.  CP was very accommodating about my request because they haven’t lost sight of their mission and only want to rescue as much food as possible and distribute it to those who need it.

As I continue to volunteer for CP, I will write about my experiences about making a food rescue run (my first one is this Saturday), meeting the people behind Community Plates, meeting other volunteers and how you can make a difference through volunteering or word-of-mouth.

If you want to volunteer, please click http://communityplate.wpengine.com/getinvolved or click the ‘Get Involved’ link at the top of the blog.

If you do decide to help, I hope to meet you and would love to share your story with others of why you signed up.  Hope to hear from you — Joan….

 

What We Value

Our inbox is buzzing! Local volunteers want to know about the Community Plate food-rescue platform.  Sunday’s Norwalk Hour had a great article that caused some of this interest and there is excitement here in Lower Fairfield County where we first launched our attack on American food-insecurity.   People are calling, emailing and trying to find out what makes this thing tick.

We didn’t have a big “corporate values” meeting before we began, but since very early on there have been four things that have organically emerged as core to who we are.  If you’re considering whether or not Community Plates is the right place for you to serve and invest your time, maybe these will provide you some direction.

We Value:

1.  Yes- Nice confusing way to begin right?  An affirmative response however is core to who we are.  When we’re talking to a potential donor (all of who have very different contexts and business parameters) it’s important that every time we can, we say yes to their requests.  ”Can you pick-up food between 2:45 and 3:15 on Tuesday and Thursday?”  ”When you come for your pickup can you please not interfere with our normal business operation?” “Can you respond to late night catering opportunities?”  This same desire to accommodate is important when we are coordinating with the busy schedules of our volunteers.  Our answer, whenever it can be, is yes- It is “yes” that allows us to grow.

2.  Simplicity– One thing I’ve heard several times this week as potential volunteers are checking us out is, “I really like this idea because it’s very simple.”   This is the truth.  All we do is transfer healthy, surplus food from where it is being discarded to where it can used in the fight against hunger among our friends and neighbors.  Simple doesn’t mean easy but one of our regular evaluations as we move forward will be to examine whether or not we are staying true to this value.  It should be simple to donate and volunteer.  It is “simplicity” that will sustain us.

3.  Creativity–   This is tied to the value of yes but being a young company we don’t have to approach either food-rescue or non-profit work like anyone else.  Our best ideas will come from people who are actually rescuing food and in responding to those ideas.  How we rescue food in six months might look very different than how it works today since we are committed to learning from our volunteers.  It is “creativity” that renews our energy and keeps our passion alive.

4.  Gratitude– We must say thank you!  Repeatedly and sincerely.  It is with thankfulness that we remind each other that there is another reality that was possible. That reality is one where people don’t care for each other and throw food away that could be used to help another.  We reject that reality and replace with a thankful, more optimistic one of our own.  It is “gratitude” that keeps us grounded and humble.

There are 50 million plus Americans that are counting on us.  American food-insecurity is a problem that doesn’t have to be.

We need your help!  Please join us.

 

Don’t Make It Difficult To Be Generous (Food-Rescue Objection #3)

“We do throw food away, but we can’t donate if it causes a hiccup in our smooth-running operation.”

This was a direct quote from a restaurant general-manager I met with last week.  He voiced something we’ve heard over and over the last few months as we’ve started reaching out to people about the technology-fueled/volunteer-driven food-rescue platform that we’ve launched here in Lower Fairfield County.

This “don’t get in the way of our business operation” phrase is repeated by grocers, bakers and caterers alike.  They raise similar questions like:

  • “What happens if my food-rescue opportunity is late at night after an eventends or early in the morning after I get done stocking my shelves?”
  • “How will the food be packaged for transport?”
  • “Our place of business has a lot going on.  What if rescuing foods gets in the way?”

Just to name a few.

But imagine if…

1.  Volunteers showed up when you asked them to, every time.
2.  Donors had an web and mobile application that allowed them to communicate quickly and precisely what those times were.
2.  There was thought given to the exact kind of trasport supplies necessary.
3.  The volunteers were trained on where to stand (and not to stand) when they arrived for a food-rescue.
4.  The volunteer’s primary concern was in allowing a donor’s business to function effectively and on not getting  in the way.

And what if along the way you could feed a portion of the 50 million Americans who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from?

This is what we are committed to.  We need your help.  Join us.