It Started with a Problem
A few years ago, students at the University of Maryland – College Park noticed a problem that is common at colleges across the country: huge amounts of leftover food from campus dining halls and sports events were being thrown away. At the same time, 1 in 8 people in the D.C. area were struggling with hunger. Furthermore, food from the UMD dining halls was sitting in landfills, contributing to global warming.
Then the Students Got Involved
In 2011, three students from different campus organizations came together to form the Food Recovery Network (FRN) at Maryland. They put together a team, got student groups to volunteer one night a week, and worked with Dining Services to start recovering leftover food.
In the first weeks, students were recovering 150-200 pounds of food a day. Every night of the week, a different student group on campus would spend an hour recovering food from the dining halls and donating it to shelters in the D.C. area. By the time the 2011-2012 year was over, the group had donated 30,000 meals to D.C.-area shelters.
Why Only Here? Why Not Everywhere?
Ben Simon and Mia Zavalij, two of the Founders of the UMD program, began to wonder about food recovery at other schools.
Why doesn’t every college in America recover food?
How much good food is going to waste each year on college campuses?
They discovered that many colleges throughout the country had no recovery program in place, and furthermore, countless people didn’t even know that recovering food was possible! So FRN decided to think big.
Food Recovery Network
In January of 2012, students from four colleges came together to create the Food Recovery Network, with a mission of creating food recovery programs on every college campus in the country. First, students at Brown University formed the second chapter of FRN, which successfully recovered 6,000 pounds of food in its first semester. That same month, FRN joined forces with two existing food recovery programs, Bare Abundance at the University of California, Berkeley and Food Rescue at Pomona College.
Then the Work Began
A National Leadership Team of 7 students from these four schools began to meet to discuss expansion. We started reaching out to students at other schools who were interested in starting food recovery programs on their campuses, and we developed materials to guide students through the process.
The results were immediate. By November of 2011, students at four schools (RISD, Providence College, UT-Austin, and Harvey Mudd/Claremont McKenna/Scripps) had started food recovery programs and joined the network, and more were on the way.
In April 2012, FRN entered the Do Good Challenge with Kevin Bacon and won the grand prize of $5,000. Then in July we won the $15,000 national grand prize at the Ashoka Banking on Youth Competition, really launching our capacity as an organization. We were featured in the Washington Post in August and attained official non-profit status by the fall of 2012.
But the press coverage was only just beginning! In October we were featured on ABC News, and the Washington Post wrote about us again. By the start of 2013, we were in the Washington Post for a third time and were featured in the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC.
Around this same time, all of the great work we were doing and press coverage we were getting inspired the formation of the Montgomery County Food Recovery Work Group in Montgomery County, Maryland with a goal to recover all of the surplus food in the county!
What Turned Us from Volunteer-Run to Professional?
In May 2013, we were awarded our first large grant from the Sodexo Foundation, whose mission is to put an end to child hunger. They saw what a huge role we were playing in achieving this mission and gave us the means to rapidly expand our impact.
We began forming a partnership with Sodexo and established a partnership with Bon Appetit, another national dining service provider. By this time we had chapters on 25 campuses from Massachusetts to California!
And Then Things Really Took Off…
In July of 2013, we used our funding to hire a full time staff dedicated to working one-on-one with students across the country to bring FRN to their campuses and providing support to students with existing Food Recovery Network programs. We also work on expanding partnerships and earned income models and organizing community events and national and regional conferences.
At the end of July, Ben Simon, one of the co-founders of FRN and current Executive Director, was featured as a top five finalist on VH1’s Do Something Awards in Los Angeles! The entire team flew out to support him, and he took home a $10,000 prize and won the attention of over 300 new students interested in starting programs!
Which Brings Us to Now…
As of May 2014, we have programs at more than 95 colleges in 26 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. and have recovered over 400,000 pounds of food! We are supported by Chartwells in addition to Sodexo, Bon Appetit, and many independent dining providers.