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

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.

Food-Insecurity: Numbers and Definitions

In 2008 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a report that looked into how many people fell into the category of food-insecure in the U.S. The report also offered some very helpful definitions for some of the key terms that those who are becoming aware of the issue will hear.

As of 2008 there were 49.1 million people living in food-insecure households. This was up from 36.2 million in 2007. This is about 15% of all adults and 22% of all children. Of that group over 17 million lived in households that are described as having “very low food-security.” That number was up almost 70% from the previous year. Community Plates is working right now to find and report current numbers but everyone interested in the topic is sure that as a result of the economic downturn of the last few years these numbers are almost certainly substantially higher.

While we’re talking numbers it’s worth noting that black and hispanic households experienced food-insecurity at far higher rates than the national average.

Now for the definitions:

Food-insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Basic needs are not just for adequate amounts of food but for adequate amounts of nutritious foods. Everyone is well aware of the importance of nutrition as it relates to the health and growth of children which makes the 22% number in children so alarming.

As it relates to food-insecurity, the terms used in the survey that captured the data and numbers referred to here to describe food security are:

High Food Security: These are households that did not answer ‘yes’ to any of the food insecurity questions.

Marginal Food Security: These are families that answered ‘yes’ to one or two of the food security questions, meaning they have had some difficulties with securing enough food. Previously, they would have been categorized as “Food Secure.”

Then there are two groups together that are referred to as food insecure. The terms used in the survey are:

Low Food Security: Generally, people that fall into this category have had to make changes in the quality or the quantity of their food in order to deal with a limited budget.

Very Low Food Security: People that fall into this category have struggled with having enough food for the household, including cutting back or skipping meals on a frequent basis for both adults and children.

According to the results of a Census Bureau survey, those at greatest risk of being hungry or on the edge of hunger (i.e., food insecure) live in households that are: headed by a single woman; Hispanic or Black; or with incomes below the poverty line. Overall, households with children experience food insecurity at almost double the rate for households without children.

What do these number call us to?

The ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life is the most basic of human needs. Food insecure households cannot achieve this fundamental level of well-being. They are the ones in our country most likely to be hungry, undernourished, and in poor health, and the ones most in need of assistance. A high number of food insecure households in a nation with our economic plenty means that the fruits of our economy, and the benefits of public and private programs for needy people, are not yet reaching millions of low-income people who are at great risk.

its simple…

There are many things in life that just aren’t that easy to solve. Some relationships no matter how much you work at them will always be ones that you just have to work at. Finding a way to generate honest, helpful dialogue between people on different sides of the political aisle has proven to be better as fodder to get elected than it has something that may actually be realized. Even hunger (which is where this will land here shortly) can be overwhelming. When we consider how many hungry people there are in the world and all the different places they live, even if we think there’s enough money, food resources to meet the need , the actual logistics of getting it done is proving to be a real challenge.

Local food-insecurity is not one of those things that can’t be solved. In fact the further we look into this increasingly relevant American issue the clearer the realization; this doesn’t have to be this way.

1 in 5 American children under the age of 5 (according to numerous studies) live in homes where they may or may not get the food they need on a daily basis. Perhaps they’ll get a meal, but maybe they won’t. And if they do get food, maybe it will be a meal that provides the nutrition they need, but then again maybe they’ll just get fed whatever their provider can get their hands on.

The numbers change slightly for other age groups but an increasing number of older children, teens and working adults as well are joining this group of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They are people who may live next door to you, attend your church; their children are in your children’s schools and your kids may have even had a play-date with theirs. They are from working families, some who are working more than one job but keep coming up short when it comes time to adequately providing the food their family needs.

This doesn’t have to be this way! When considering the problem of hungry children and families in the US, we immediately realize that there is no shortage of food; instead the problem lies in community awareness and coordination of available resources. In many of our cities, surplus food available to feed food-insecure families is nearby to where the hungry already live and work.

it’s simple…

Community Plates and its generous partners will rescue surplus food and close the gap “from” where it is “to” where it is needed.

join us…