Tom Straus

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School: University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC)

Major: Marketing

Minor: Psychology

Masters: Urban Planning & Policy

FRN Experience: Tom joined as a member due to its alignment with his studies and interest. During his time at UIC, he was elected as vice president and then later president. Before graduating, he expanded their food donors to 30 restaurants in the Chicago French Market and the University hospital cafeteria. He also helped write a proposal to have UIC have a permanent intern position that assisted with recoveries.

Job: Administrator for the Compost Club at The Urban Canopy

Food Recovery is not only critical to helping people who are facing hunger, but also to mother nature and saving the planet. The production and transportation  of food takes massive amounts of water, land, and energy. Our food use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which impacts our air quality and global warming. Tom Straus, an alum from University of Illinois, Chicago, took efforts to further food recovery and protect the environment.

Tom has always had an interest in the outdoors and the environment. Call it a green thumb or maybe a green heart. From studying economic systems and food waste, he immediately saw the benefits of FRN —  feeding hungry people and reducing the amount of food waste. But Tom always thought his chapter, and he, himself, could do more. With his position as a manager at the Chicago French Market, he was able to increase his chapter’s food donors to 30 local businesses. He also wrote a proposal to the Office of Sustainability to have a permanent intern work with their chapter, ensuring that each year their chapter would have school support and was up and running season after season. But, alas, what if you could do more?

“Build a larger community around sustainability”

For all the food that goes to a person in need; what about the scraps and leftovers that cannot be rescued? Food that is still going into the trash is impacting the environment in a negative manner. How can we fix that?

Tom, as the Administrator for the Composting Club with The Urban Canopy, works to advocate and manage composting in the city of Chicago. For those of us who are unfamiliar, composting is compiling organic matter so that it can be repurposed as fertilizer in order to better the soil and reduce the amount of methane gas and water that is produced and used to breakdown garbage at a landfill.

“Very different from letting a pile rot in your yard!”

Many composting companies, like The Urban Canopy, provide bins for compostable materials and will even pick up your compost every week. They also distribute wheatgrass, kombucha, and weekly selections of seasonal produce, fresh eggs from local farms and baked goods. Tom is involved with the whole process, from helping pick-up the compost to running a compost benefit program to increase the amount of companies and individual households that compost.

The Urban Canopy is also looking to create and increase the existing CSA (community subsidized agriculture) systems in Chicago. Not only does composting help with the reduction of food waste, but with the prepaid boxes from the local farms it decreases the amount of food waste from the source! One of the benefits that Tom and his team created is that for every 10 compost pick-ups members receive a small gift card to one of the local companies that also compost! This gives recognition to businesses that might fall under the radar; the compost also goes back to the local farms that they are delivering the produce!

Tom also serves as a member on two boards, The Plant Chicago and Food Recovery Network’s Student Alumni Advisory Board (SAAB). Tom also holds a position with the auxiliary board at Plant Chicago, leading the Education Committee’s efforts with K-12  students, teaching them about sustainable food production, energy conservation, and material reuse. He helps schools get approved for field trips to the composting facility and plans demonstrations in the classroom. With SAAB, he is working on increasing FRN’s outreach to students and assisting the students with the partnerships they have with their dining providers.

“I would like to see more people doing it, cities more actively promoting  the separation of food waste from municipal trash. Combine with community gardens, to build a larger community around sustainability.”

To connect with Tom further
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-straus

The Urban Canopy: www.theurbancanopy.org/
The Plant Chicago: https://plantchicago.org/


Shewa Shwani

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School: State University Environmental Sciences & Forestry (SUNY ESF), New York

Major: Environmental Science

Minor: Food Studies

FRN Experience: Started as a volunteer driving the recoveries to the partner agency and then became president, a position she held for 3 years.

Job: Administrative Program Coordinator with Catholic Charities

Favorite Food: Pomegranates or Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves)

“Breaking Bread.” An expression commonly meaning to share a meal with someone dating back long before FRN was founded. Food and hunger are two things that can bring different cultures together. Shewa Shwani demonstrates how being a part of FRN and recovery can bring people together. From educating peers about her experience as a Muslim woman in the United States to leading a movement against food waste and hunger in her community, she has always been involved in volunteer work to help those in need. Whether it be in a soup kitchen, working with refugees and tutoring those who need help with their English, helping people is her passion. In her role at Catholic Charities and through volunteer work with We Rise Above the Streets, she continues to incorporate food recovery and service into her everyday life, making an impact in her community.

“Some of the best conversations and communities are built over food.”

Food recovery and service build connections between communities that do not always have the opportunity to cross roads or find common round. For example, her chapter helped unite Syracuse University, a private institution, with State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF), a public one. She received the Unsung Hero Award as a recognition of her work in 2016.

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She also spoke at FRN’s national conference National Food Recovery Dialogue (NFRD). At NFRD we ask our FRNds to submit their personal stories from the front lines of food recovery, in a segment called This Recovered Life. Shewa was selected to talk about how she brought communities together. Shewa states, “I went from not caring about the environment to caring about the environment so much. I went through the journey of bettering myself as a person and to help other people better themselves.” Her presence and stories touched those around the country who have had the pleasure of hearing her speak or working with her. Those friendships and connections have stayed strong even after graduation

In her work now, Shewa lifts up those from homelessness and she helps homeless shelters find resources that they need. Now that she is out of school she is getting more involved with We Rise Above the Streets, a local Syracuse nonprofit that works to alleviate hunger and homelessness. Shewa is interested in working with them to coordinate events. We Rise Above the Streets founding goal was to feed the homeless in Syracuse, NY. They started as a small group of volunteers making peanut butter sandwiches on Saturday’s underneath a bridge, now it has grown into a sizable operation that provides clothing and hygienic toiletries for the homelessness.

“Food is a right and a basic human need and not everyone has access to that.”

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When Shewa was at SUNY, she ensured that one out of five recoveries would be donated to We Rise Above the Streets. Last summer after graduation she also helped organize the first cookout fundraiser event for We Rise Above the Streets. We’re excited to see what Shewa’s next impact on her community will be.

Catherine (Katie) Crombetz

School: Madonna University ‘17

Major/area of study: Biochemistry/Piano Performance

FRN Experience: Founder & President of the Madonna Food Recovery Network Chapter 2015-2016, Executive Chair of the FRN Student & Alumni Advisory Board 2017-present

What was your favorite memory from experiences with FRN?
One of my favorite memories is a simple phone call I received from my contact at our partner agency (PA) within the first month of beginning our recoveries. Myself and a few students recovered from our school dining services on a Friday afternoon as usual and delivered the food to the PA right away. Our PA was always so grateful no matter what we showed up with each week, but this week in particular my contact called me the day after the recovery to further express his thanks for our new partnership.

“Once people knew that they could recover food  to help the community, it wasn’t just the students who did not want to see the food go into the trash

One piece of advice you would give to Chapters in Process (CHIPs) or Official Chapters (OCs) that are struggling?
Don’t give up! Even if things are progressing slowly, continue to recover when you can, even if you have limited volunteers continue to advocate for food recovery in your school and community, even if it just means a conversation with a student in the hallway between classes. Your impact is important whether it is small or large!

Can you give a brief description of what the Student Alumni Advisory Board (SAAB) is for those who don’t know what exactly it is?
SAAB is a group of students and alumni, who are interested in sharing their own experiences and knowledge with FRN National, chapters and chapters in progress. We want to be an educational resource and to create additional opportunities for the movement.

How would you like the network to utilize the Student Alumni Advisory Board?
I would love to see SAAB grow to be a unique bridge between the students and FRN National as a way to increase communication and collaboration. I’m hoping students turn to us for advice, resources, and idea generation! This board is composed of incredibly passionate people from across the country who have diverse experiences with FRN recoveries and chapter practices.

“When you think about all the extra things we do in our daily routines; taking the extra step to recover or donate food becomes small.”

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Do you still participate in any food recovery/feeding the hungry activities now?
I recently started volunteering with a street medicine program that distributes food, among other necessities like clothing and medical supplies, to those who need it in Detroit. The food is not currently recovered but now that I have this connection I’m hoping to work on finding ways to provide recovered food to this team and others that are servicing those in need out on the streets!


“My hope is for food recovery to not only spread to each college campus,

but for the practice to be norm for all businesses.”

Did you know?

  • Katie and her family members know how to unicycle

  • She still has a voicemail from one of her hunger fighting partner agencies sharing his gratitude from one of the recoveries saved on her phone that she listens to when she needs a little inspiration of the good in the world

Connect with Katie Further:

Facebook: Katie Crombez
Twitter: @KatieCrombez
Instagram: ktcrombez
LinkedIn: Catherine Crombez