Mac n’ Cheese on Wheels

It all started when I was reading the DailySkimm email I get every weekday morning. It was my spring semester during my sophomore year of college, and I was cleaning out my inbox. The DailySkimm is a quick-read email that gives a breakdown of the global news. As I got to the bottom of the email, I saw a small blurb describing an organization called Food Recovery Network. Curious, I clicked on the link and it brought me to their national website. After navigating through the site’s different tabs and content, something sparked inside me.

This was a cause primarily focused on recovering perishable food and bringing it to those in need. I was already in the mindset that wasting perfectly edible food was a huge taboo, and here was a non-profit organization whose mission was to fight food waste. I wondered to myself, Why doesn’t Marist College have a system like this on campus? What happened to all of the leftovers Sodexo has at the end of the day? Does that get thrown away too? I thought about all of those dishes and plates full of food on the dining rack in our school’s main dining hall, all about to be dumped in the trash. I closed my browser, and over the next few days, Food Recovery Network and its’ mission lingered in the back of my mind, and eventually I decided to take action.

Cold-calling wasn’t exactly my strong suit. The first step in bringing a Food Recovery Network chapter to Marist was to contact Food Recovery Network’s national headquarters about inquiring to begin the process. I reread my email several times, making sure everything was formal and I had zero grammatical errors. “To whom it may concern, hello, my name is Nicole Souza, and I am currently a junior…”. Once I read all the way down to my signature at the bottom of the message, I clicked send. Click. No going back now. Even though it only took Sara Ribakove, one of the FRN National Fellows that helped me through the whole process, 48 hours to respond back to me, it felt like weeks passed because I was waiting in anticipation. Reading her email, I could practically hear her enthusiastic voice.

“I’m SO excited to hear you want to start a chapter at Marist College!...”. She outlined the steps of what I had to go through to start my chapter: recruit a leadership team, find a partner agency, and get dining approval. It didn’t seem like a hefty process looking at the roadmap PDF for starting a Food Recovery Network chapter. But little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Spring 2015 was where a majority of the prep work occurred for gathering my leadership team, contacting Sodexo dining services and partner agencies, and prepping for recovery runs. Hannah Gingerich was another FRN National Fellow who helped me bring FRN to Marist, and both she and Sara helped me every step of the way, which I am very appreciative of. After the spring semester had passed, we were able to complete our first official recovery run during the fall 2015 semester. When we were preparing for our very first recovery run the night before, there was a constant red notification sign on my Facebook home page from my Food Recovery Network leadership team’s Facebook group message. I was all set up to drive my car, Sodexo Dining was ready for us to come at 5:00 pm tomorrow. Our leadership team would meet in front of the door leading to the back kitchen, and we would record the type and amount of food we would recover. I went to bed, hoping that all would go as planned tomorrow.

The next day, 4:30 pm rolled around, and I decided to head over to the back of the kitchen early. The leadership team all met up, and we cautiously entered the kitchen. A Sodexo worker walked by us, but then did a double take and paused. “Can I help you?” he asked. “Hi-ii,” I stuttered, stepping forward. “we’re the Food Recovery Network team, and we’re here to pick up the perishable food … the head chef told us you would have for us?” I tried not to show my nervousness, but it was palpable by my timid face expression and stuttering voice. The worker looked puzzled, and said he would be right back to check with someone. Suddenly, my heart started racing. Oh no, this can’t be happening. They didn’t know we were coming, I’ve made my team come here for nothing…

But then I was able to breathe once I saw the head chef, Anthony. “If you could just follow me to the back, please,” he amicably said. We headed to the back with him, and we saw that there was a cart loaded with wrapped food in aluminum plans. BBQ chicken, mac n’ cheese, and garlic bread; a hearty dinner. We weighed the food, then pushed the cart to the elevator to bring it out to my car. Outside, we loaded the food. I couldn’t stop from smiling. This is so cool! We’re actually doing this. I pulled out my phone. I looked towards a Sodexo worker that had come outside with us. “Uhh, would you mind taking a picture for us?” I asked. The worker smiled. “Sure!” Me, the Food Recovery Network team and the head chef all huddled together. “CHEESE!” We all had the biggest smiles on our faces.

It only took about ten minutes to drive to Dutchess Community Outreach. Once we arrived, we entered inside the building and found Margot. She was happily expecting us, and she grabbed a cart to help us bring in the food. I lifted the ten-pound aluminum tray of mac n’ cheese off the wheeling cart, catching a glimpse of the oozing, cheesy pasta as I placed the tray on the counter in the kitchen. I still remember that first tray I put on Dutchess’ kitchen counter because it was the first recovered food tray we officially delivered. After gathering the food onto the cart and unloading it, we were done.

That’s it. That’s it. As we walked back to my car, I exclaimed, “We did it guys … we … did it.”

“That was so quick!” the Vice President, piped in. “And it only took an hour!”

All of those hours, days, weeks, months, preparing for this one freakin’ hour! Bringing in 95 pounds of food that would otherwise gone to waste to people who were in need of a dinner took one hour. That’s when I felt it. That indescribable feeling that made you feel important, and that you were truly making a difference in someone’s life. And it only took one hour.

Although we continued completing recovery runs, we were not an official chartered club at Marist until early December. Hounding my Marist Foxmail account, I was sending multiple emails out each day trying to get Food Recovery Network a date to present to our Student Government so they could approve us as an official club. We were finally able to schedule a presentation date; my leadership team and I were excited to show our Student Government what Food Recovery Network stood for, and what our mission was.

On the day we presented, after all of the questions were asked, we had to step outside of the room so the board could have a final discussion. Standing next to the door, the team and I became restless and nervous. When the doors opened back up, we were ushered in and we were greeted with applause and a standing Student Government who were all smiling at us. On December 9, 2015, the Marist College Food Recovery Network became officially chartered. I cried when we took the group photo, all of us wearing our club’s T-shirts we ordered. From that moment on, I told myself that I would never give up on anything else in my life, but instead work harder to achieve my goals.

The next week, the leadership was able to recover another 70 pounds of pork, mashed potatoes, and green beans on their next recovery run to Dutchess Community Outreach in Poughkeepsie, NY. Again, it only took one hour. When I talked to Hannah, updating her on our club’s status at Marist as an official club, she told me just how proud she was of me for coming this far. It all didn’t really hit me until the day after. Food Recovery Network is now established on the Marist campus. We had officially joined the hunger and poverty fight, and our chapter has the capability of recovering over 100 pounds of food every week and bring it to those in need. We weren’t just making a difference; we were helping to change the world. Before, the Sodexo workers had no idea who I was. But now that our chapter carries out weekly recovery runs twice a week, the head chef Anthony and other main workers personally greet my leadership team and I every time we walk into the back kitchen to pick up the recovered food. Because of our Food Recovery Network’s work, now, the Sodexo workers hesitate when they are about to throw away perfectly good mac n’ cheese. That mac n’ cheese shouldn’t go in the garbage, it should go on wheels.

Follow Marist College FRN on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date with their chapter. 

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