Rescuing People by Rescuing Food
Copyright Francis P.Koster, Ed.D.
Note: In addition to publishing my writing on this website, and emailing it to a mailing list of over 3,000 community leaders, my columns appear in several newspapers. One of the unsatisfying aspects of my work is that I never know if anyone acts on the material I create. This column was an experiment. Instead of writing about a national problem and a national opportunity, I decided to try to write about the same issue from a local perspective, choosing a community near where I live which had a social service organization willing to participate in the experiment. This would allow me to monitor the impact of the column. For a view of the results, check out the Letter To The Editor of the local paper sent by the head of the social service organization. That letter appears below this article.
Think about the role of food in celebrating - we eat at wedding banquets and birthday parties. We eat at business ceremonial events with men who finally got a haircut and their lovely female companions who sport polished toe nails and new outfits. Awards are given, songs are sung, toasts made, rounds of applause and standing ovations - all in a room with plates and plates of food.
Food is surrounded by good emotion.
When the room clears, and the flowers collected, trophies carefully packed in the car, and last photos taken, a national tragedy begins to unfold out of sight of the now departed guests.
The cooked leftover food waiting in the kitchen is thrown away.
Not far from these venues of celebration sits other places where poor people without their next meal line up to get something - anything - to hold body and soul together.
Frequently there is not enough to go around.
There are two sources of opportunity. One are places that serve large crowds for special events, like banquet halls, country clubs, conference centers. The other is restaurants that serve food all day every day. Both groups can donate more food if a few simple steps are taken.
The first is a change of process during the planning of the event. The person throwing the party, or the event planner, should bring up the question of donating leftovers to charity. If the desire exists to make the gift, a simple form could be offered making the donation official. Since the people throwing the party paid for the food, it really isn't the club or hotel’s to give away without this simple step.
The second simple change involves scheduling. The meeting host or hosted or food service staff should call Rowan Helping Ministries day or so before and inform them of the possibility of a food donation emerging.
I learned how frustrating it is for them to get a call late in the evening saying “if you get here before we close you can have meals for 50.”…..leaving the charity worker with the challenging task of rounding up a vehicle (possibly containing refrigeration) and a driver in an hour or so very late in the evening.
Restaurants are another story. They daily prepare in advance large amounts of food which customers do not order. With expanded recruiting of donor restaurants, the existing collection route could be expanded, collecting huge amounts of useful food.
The third step became obvious as I spoke to both of these potential donor groups. Their fear of being sued kept them using dumpsters. A law passed in 1996 protects food donors from lawsuit and they do not even know about it!
When I sent the potential donor groups copies of the law, you could hear the change in their attitude as they moved from polite to enthusiastic. So one needed step is a systematic effort to educate potential donors, done by local community supporters such as lawyers.
Think of the potential - all neighborhood restaurants, The Country Club of Salisbury, all the restaurants along the interstate exits, the fairgrounds, wineries where weddings are being held….if we can collect prepared but surplus food the task of feeding hungry people would get so much more effective.
In Rowan County, North Carolina, Rowan Helping Ministries already operates a system of food distribution that serves over 95,000 meals a year, and could do more if we act. About 80 individuals who live in the shelter receive breakfast and dinner each evening. Jeannie’s Kitchen serves lunch to about 170 people a day. Volunteers prepare all three meals 365 days a year. In addition to the meals, the Helping Ministries provides 550,000 pounds of food through its food pantry annually.
98% of this comes from food donations, either prepared or cans and boxes yet to be prepared. Second Helping Drivers pick up food for Jeannie’s Kitchen from a variety of restaurants alike Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse.
Prepared food can also be brought to Rowan Helping Ministries. They do need to know ahead of time so that they can be prepared to receive it. 704-637-6838 ext 117 or ext 108.
I know we can make a better future by working together - and this is too good an opportunity to waste. We know what needs to be done. Now we need someone to step to the plate and lead the effort to put these three steps in place. You.
Letter to the Editor of The Salisbury Post, Salisbury North Carolina
Sharing resources can be powerful force in community
The power of working together to address critical community needs was clearly evident last week after a column written by Dr. Francis Koster appeared in the Salisbury Post on Aug. 24.
The column, “Optimistic Futurist: Multiplying the Loaves and Fishes,” very eloquently laid out the opportunity for restaurants and other members of the food industry to help feed hungry citizens by donating leftover food to charities.
Just days after Dr. Koster’s call to action was published, a local restaurant called Rowan Helping Ministries to set up ongoing food donations that will help provide meals through Jeannie’s Kitchen. Shortly afterward, a non-profit organization called to offer unused food from a catered event to be held later this month.
Jeannie’s Kitchen is a great example of how the business sector, volunteers and non-profit organizations can pool resources to meet critical community needs cost effectively. And while doing that, we can reduce waste and inefficiency from disposing of food that is fresh and safe to eat.
Last year, Rowan Helping Ministries served over 95,000 meals in Jeannie’s Kitchen. Without the ongoing and generous food donations from our community, we would need to spend $190,000 annually to purchase food for those meals.
Thank you to the Salisbury Post for publishing the important call to action written by Dr. Koster. Thank you to Dr. Koster for his insightful and inspiring piece that resulted in new food donors for Rowan Helping Ministries. And thank you to the restaurant, the caterer and the non-profit for responding quickly and enthusiastically to help feed our hungry citizens.
When everyone contributes their respective resources and skills to a daunting community issue, we can change lives in dramatic ways.
— Kyna Grubb
Grubb is executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries.