A Labor of Love: Food Recovery With The Community Kitchen

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When prepared food is dumped in the trash, or even composted, it’s not only the food, but the time and energy put into preparing it, that gets wasted. Instead of wasting this surplus, businesses across the country are donating hot prepared foods to nonprofit organizations, who can ensure that carefully crafted, nutritious meals feed the hungry instead. In Thurston County, Washington, nonprofits have been able to expand their impact by integrating donated food into their meal services, thereby decreasing waste, and feeding their community.  

According to their Public Works Department, “In Thurston County, wasted food is the single-largest item currently going to the landfill.” With food insecurity at about 13%, and 1 in 6 households lacking adequate access to nutritional food, reducing food waste is a priority at both the state and local levels. The Community Kitchen, a program run by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCS) in Olympia, is fighting hunger and reducing food waste through food recovery.

The Community Kitchen partners with multiple local food businesses to distribute recovered food to the residents of Thurston County and the surrounding areas. Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) at Saint Martin’s University has been donating their surplus food to The Community Kitchen for many years, and became Food Recovery Verified in April 2014. According to Peter Epperson, the Community Kitchen’s Community Involvement Coordinator, these donations help to make their meal service possible, allowing them to serve three hot meals a day and provide bagged lunches seven days a week. Additionally, they deliver 325 meals to veterans in need at The Drexel House, and 100 meals to homeless youth at Rosie’s Place, every week.

It is possible to provide these meals thanks to the support of both state and local government agencies looking to divert food waste from landfills. According to Thurston County’s Solid Waste Program, in 2014, 17% of the county’s trash was food, and of that 43% was edible. To reduce the waste, they first granted funding to the Thurston County Food Bank so they could receive recovered food. A few years later, the Washington Department of Ecology backed this initiative by providing grant funding to eight agencies in Thurston County to grow their capacity to reduce food waste as well, one of which was The Community Kitchen. They used this funding to expand their walk-in cooler, to pay for food trays to package food, and to purchase reusable cambros in which to deliver it. These resources increased their kitchen’s capacity to support partnerships with food donors and accept larger volumes of donated food.

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The Community Kitchen’s work would not be possible without their astounding volunteer base of nearly 650, some of whom have been volunteering in the area for 30 years.There are 30 crew leaders with food handling certifications, who organize recoveries, deliveries, and meal services. Remarkably, the meals provided by the Community Kitchen are planned by just one chef, playfully nicknamed Turtle, who Epperson describes as, “ a whirlwind of joy and energy.” Turtle creatively repurposes prepared foods, and uses the fresh produce they receive to provide healthy and nutritious meals.

Epperson recalls a meal made of rescued yakisoba noodles, fried vegetables and chicken recovered from Bon Appétit at Saint Martin’s University, paired with a green salad made of donated produce from Safeway.This is one example showcasing the quality and nutritional value of the food being donated. He notes that receiving prepared foods from Saint Martin’s recovery program has allowed them to donate more meals outside of the kitchen, since volunteers sometimes only need to pick up and deliver food that is ready to eat, as opposed to cooking and serving meals.

At one volunteer-run dinner that served 170 community members, one seven-year-old, who’s head barely reached the glass of the counter stood out. “She had this beaming smile on her face that radiated appreciation,” recalled Epperson, “all the while not knowing the food was rescued. From her perspective it was just good food.” Her smile serves as a testament to the hard work and love that Epperson sees in the staff at Bon Appétit. “Their mission in providing us with food, reflects their passion in feeding people,” Epperson elucidated, continuing with, “Just as the child beamed with gratitude for their meal, these people are also radiating, because they know that the hard work and the love that they put into their food is going to feed people that would otherwise go hungry.”  

From state and local government support, down to the volunteers and chefs preparing and delivering recovered food, according to Epperson, what matters is that, “you can taste the love.”  

From Regina's Desk - Strategic Plan

Dear Friends of FRN, (FRNds),

Food Recovery Network is in the final year of our three-year Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan was designed to support FRN’s growth from our inception on one college campus to a national leader in food recovery working in hundreds of communities across the country. The Strategic Plan acts as a guidepost for achieving a set of ambitious goals for the food recovery movement.

To understand the work our movement will embark on in Year Three of the Plan, I wanted to be sure to tell the story of what happened during Year Two. It’s important that we celebrate the improvements we’ve made to our program model, the milestones we’ve achieved as a movement, and the meaning we’ve made from the data we’ve collected. It’s also important to communicate how new opportunities shaped our work of this coming year.

Below are the five pillars of our Strategic Plan with key updates based on the ending of Year Two:

Strength and Competency of the Network

By the end of Fiscal Year 2019, FRN aims to be a vibrant hub of activity that fosters and strengthens connections among and between those in the Network. It also outlines that FRN will support students to be leaders in their communities and provide new and aggregated content, resources, and training that supports the Network in deepening its literacy in the food movement space.

FRN expanded to 235 chapters across the country seeing highest pockets of growth in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois and Virginia. To date, the movement collectively recovered and donated three million pounds of food, one car load of food at a time. By the end of Year Two, our Network donated more than 870,000 pounds of food— the most food in any one program year than ever before.

As part of our work to increase the strength and competency of the Network, we took much of year two of our Plan to design a new student portal that will launch in fall 2018. We’re particularly proud of the increased pathways of leadership opportunities at FRN. Our Regional Outreach Coordinator (ROC) program expanded to support 10 ROCs who hosted regional summits in nine cities across the country. The National Food Recovery Dialogue 2017 brought together hundreds of students from across the Network to discuss the food recovery landscape, hear from industry experts, and share best practices across chapters.

Influence and Voice

Our Strategic Plan also seeks to increase FRN’s Voice and Influence. We are already proving to be a sought-after voice in the food recovery movement, as evidenced by our presence at national conferences, requests to support government agencies, and media coverage of our work. I’ve had the opportunity to represent FRN at a number of national conferences hosted by venerable organizations like Food Tank, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Waste360, and more. Plus, our student leaders have been quoted in the media, have won awards and have represented FRN at conferences across the country.

FRN supported Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s Food Recovery Act and played a leading role in conversations at the USDA under both Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sonny Perdue. In addition, during Fiscal Year 2018 FRN was featured in about 900 stories that reached more than 157 million readers.

Financial Sustainability

By the end of Fiscal Year 2019, FRN will be financially stable to achieve its 3-year plan, and to weather unexpected influences of the market. We've worked to diversify our funding streams by partnering with a variety of foundations who believe in student leadership, reducing food waste, climate support and feeding those in need. We are working to communicate with our individual donors who are also amazing and diverse. We have continual supporters who give us $5 a month, even $5 a year because they believe in our work. It is humbling to have such wonderful supporters in our corner.

Staff Strength and Capacity

The fourth pillar of the Plan is Staff Strength and Capacity. FRN aims to have a team that has the resources and skill-sets to achieve the goals of FRN’s Strategic Plan and vision. In Year Two of the Plan, FRN increased the number of Fellowship opportunities at the national office and created new, permanent staff positions. Professional development is one way FRN sets ourselves apart from other organizations and we expanded our offerings of weekly trainings to all staff. We also send our staff to as many external trainings and conferences as possible.

Board Strength and Capacity

Our final pillar is to have a board membership that has the resources to govern and fundraise for FRN to achieve the Strategic Plan. We have added several members to our National Board of Directors this year who add tremendous capacity and talent to our team. We are proud of the individuals we have welcomed to our team in the past year, including Bill McConagha, a partner at Sidley Austin, LLP Food and Drug Practice, and Perteet Spencer, an organics industry marketing professional at SPINS.

Our intent in creating a three-year Strategic Plan was to build a foundation for FRN to secure our organization as we grew in scope and size. Our aim is to grow our capacity to recover more food, reduce food waste at the source, and help our environment. We are dedicated to engendering lasting behavior change by educating our community about the many negative effects of overproducing, and then wasting, food. As we enter Year Three of this Plan, I am confident that we are well on the way to achieving our ambitious goals.


Regina Northouse

Check out FRN’s social media and newsletter for more updates on our work. In the coming months, we will introduce our new class of ROCs, share highlights from our FRV program, and celebrate the student leaders who comprise our movement.

A Forum for All: food insecurity in Kansas

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There are few issues with as much reach as food insecurity. In Riley County, Kansas where I currently live while attending Kansas State University, the rate of food insecurity is 17.9 percent, which far exceeds the national average of 12.3 percent.

With the understanding that far too many of my neighbors did not know where their next meal would come from, I jumped at an opportunity to help organize a Food Justice Forum with Kansas Appleseed and other community partners earlier this spring. My role with Food Recovery Network and other food-focused service and advocacy groups had allowed me to collaborate with some of the partners in previous efforts, and those relationships connected me to the Forum.

After weeks of collaborating, our team of seven different organizations put on an event with an attendance of nearly 50 people from all over the county. There were people who were experiencing food insecurity themselves, people who volunteered their time with food pantries and community meal serving, people who work to provide information about healthy eating and services to alleviate the financial burden of food-purchasing like SNAP, people studying food science, and many more. The forum was structured as a group effort to answer a set of questions about food insecurity, including discussions of those who are most vulnerable to hunger, its adverse effects, and potential solutions.

By the end of the discussion, ideas and perspectives were shared by nearly everyone in the room. Many people stayed long after the wrap-up to gather contact information from other attendees to keep the conversation moving forward. Though we all had our own reasons for being interested in and passionate about the issues of food justice and food security, we recognized that the best way to continue making progress is to do so together.

I learned several important lessons from planning and organizing a successful event with a coalition of other organizations. My main takeaways and pieces of advice for other event-planners are as follows:

Join up with other interested organizations

When trying to organize an event like a forum, town hall, or panel discussion, going it alone, especially as a college student already stretched by various commitments, is not a route I’d recommend. Solo ventures offer little accountability, fewer resources to pull from, and less collective bargaining power when compared to a group effort. Joining up with like-minded groups passionate about furthering a certain cause or event can boost your people-power.

Meet in person to discuss the structure of the event

Figuring out the nitty gritty details of an event–including where it will be held and how the organizing responsibilities will be divided–is much easier to decide in person. While it may feel more convenient to coordinate via email or through a shared document, face-to-face contact and real-time discussions can be much more conducive to quick and simple planning.

Reach out to your networks early and often to promote the event

I know from personal experience just how discouraging it can be to face a sparsely populated room at an event you dedicated time and energy to plan. Set yourself up for success by reaching out to a wide range of groups both on and off campus––even those that might only be indirectly related to your cause. Use every method at your disposal to promote your event, like Facebook, Instagram, email, listservs, sidewalk-chalking, poster-hanging, tabling or handing out flyers in public spaces, making announcements in classrooms, talking with friends, etc. If you want a lot of people to know about the event, you have to meet them where they are. They won’t know to come looking for you and your event unless they’ve been made aware of it.


Sodexo at the National Geographic Society Is Changing the Way Corporate Dining Sees Food

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Sodexo at the National Geographic Society Headquarters is leading the way for corporate dining facilities to increase green practices by implementing sustainable initiatives in their kitchen. Thanks to the efforts of their kitchen team, led by General Manager Laura Monto, they started a food recovery program and became Food Recovery Verified on November 21, 2017. Their recovery program advances the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation’s mission to reduce hunger, and the National Geographic Society’s aim to achieve Zero Waste.  

The kitchen staff has worked hard to reconfigure the way they store and label recovered food in order to maximize their donations and ensure the integrity and safety of the food. Monto made clear just how much the kitchen staff values the food they prepare and serve:“[I]t’s wrong to throw good food away,” she said. “It’s just so thankless.”

Sodexo at the National Geographic Society started donating food in partnership with Food Rescue US, a non-profit organization that provides an efficient and free, solution to food waste. In 2011, Food Rescue US launched an application that allows donors to schedule pick ups with volunteer drivers, who take the food to receiving agencies that same day. Food Rescue US has a strong presence in the Washington, D.C. area–though they operate nationally–and serves as a link between D.C. restaurants, including the National Geographic Society’s kitchen, and food insecure people throughout the city.

Since starting the food recovery program and becoming Food Recovery Verified, Monto says she has witnessed a change in behavior among the kitchen staff. “Everybody has compassion in the kitchen now,” Monto said.“We keep each other on track.” She attributes this transition to the connection felt between her staff and their community after seeing photos of the individuals receiving food donations from their kitchen. “[There’s] more respect for the food, because we know this is really going somewhere; this is important,” Monto observed. She wants to continue building local connections by inspiring other kitchens in the Washington, D.C. area to start recovery programs as well.

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For Sodexo at the National Geographic Society, reducing hunger is part of its holistic approach to Zero Waste. Monto estimates that the recovery program has already reduced the kitchen’s compost by at least 30 percent. The head chef is focused on reducing that number even further by finding ways to use more food trim, the edible food scraps that are not regularly used, while also creating plant-based menu offerings with lower environmental impacts. The dining facility is also eliminating single-use plastics including everything from drink bottles and cutlery to yogurt cups, by switching to bamboo utensils and water in aluminum cans.

By pairing sustainability and food waste reduction with efforts to fight hunger, Sodexo at the National Geographic Society is changing how corporate dining treats food. Their care and intentionality serves as a foundation to bring companies and organizations together to reduce food waste.

FRN Student Leader Attends 2018 U.S. EPA Food Recovery Summit

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Sometimes you have to forget about the bottom line and do what is right.

I attended the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Food Recovery Summit at Centurylink Field on June 7. Yes, I took my shoes off and wiggled my toes on the astro turf. No, I did not meet any of the players. (Centurylink Field is the home field for the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League and Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer.) I did, however, meet some of Washington’s biggest players in the fight against food waste. I had the opportunity to pick the brains of representatives from major restaurant management companies and large-scale food bank directors. We learned about all of the green thinking that goes into running a large-scale business. The presentations discussed how businesses keep profit margins up while also having the human power to glean and compost. Sometimes, doing the right thing just has to come before profits.

I was invited to this summit through my current AmeriCorps site supervisor. I am finishing up my AmeriCorps term as a Food Security and Nutrition Program Coordinator at Hunger Intervention Program (HIP), an organization striving to provide food security for all. I work to provide weekend food packs to children facing food insecurity. We distribute roughly 280 food packs a week, and each pack contains six meals to help when school food is not available. I also work to develop Food Justice workshops that discuss the impact of food waste on hunger. I was very excited to take a seat in audience of this EPA discussion and learn more about front line efforts against food waste.  

Did you know that 40% of food in the U.S. is tossed into the trash while one in eight Americans goes hungry? Those statistics are what inspired me to join FRN, but I was surprised to learn that approximately 10% of food purchased by restaurants is thrown away prior to being plated. I was even more surprised to learn that only three percent of food in landfills is being composted while food waste is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gases. While the public is becoming more aware of the issue of food waste, food is still being produced and wasted at an alarming scale. Panelists at the summit shared current tools they use to track their food waste. For example, an organization called LeanPath Food Waste Solutions aims to curb food waste through helping restaurants see how much food is being wasted in real time. This allows kitchen staff to step in and make a change when they see that their food waste percentages are increasing.

Centurylink Field has some food waste prevention methods of their own. Fresh produce that is stored in walk-in refrigerators is protected from spoilage through use of carbon filters. These carbon filters reduce ethylene gas in the cooler and allow for a longer shelf life. Another method they use is to filter fryer oil more frequently. Frequent filtering allows for a 66% reduction in oil waste. To further prevent waste, chefs and kitchen staff create recipes from scratch and make small batches of food throughout the day. Finally, all food scraps are composted and the staff is in the early planning stages of using anaerobic digesters for on-site composting. Through these efforts, this stadium that feeds more than 69,000 people is able to be 96% waste-free.   

Another inspiring presentation was made by Jay Payne, General Manager at Bon Appétit Management Company, who discussed Bon Appétit’s partnership with Food Recovery Network. I was so proud to be part of FRN’s Alumni Network when he bragged about the Food Recovery Verified program. Bon Appétit has set a goal to have 80% of its locations Food Recovery Verified. Jay’s presentation reminded me of when my campus became Food Recovery Verified in 2016, and I am excited for Bon Appétit’s commitment towards reducing its food waste.

Gatherings like the EPA Food Recovery Summit are so important. They show that our efforts matter. We are making a difference. This summit inspired me to discuss the usage of carbon filters in HIP’s produce storage and how this method could help extend the shelf life of food for our community members. If we continue these conversations, more organizations will be aware of the steps they can take to end food waste. I encourage FRN chapters to seek out opportunities for discussion with EPA members and other large-scale food manufacturing companies. We need to get more restaurant management companies engaged in the discussion around food waste prevention ask them to do what is right.