Children in Need: Who’s Helping?

5 minute read

When you consider those who are facing food insecurity, who do you think about? At Food Recovery Network, our mission is fighting waste and feeding people. Our chapters embody that mission when they work to recover food and donate it to hunger-fighting non-profits. Some schools focus on feeding children in need, which can include after-school programs, youth shelters, and organizations focused on helping children reach their full potential. These chapters and non-profit agencies are working hard to look after these vulnerable groups of people.

Across the US, the estimated rate of child food insecurity is higher than the rate of overall food insecurity, a term meaning the lack of consistent access to healthy food. Feeding America found that 13 million children are food insecure in their 2016 Child Food Insecurity Module report. That means that one out of every six children in the United States is food insecure. Community-level involvement is essential when considering the sheer number of children who are facing this hardship.

Non-profit organizations who partner with FRN chapters and the community at large are critical not only for the food recovery model but as a source of nutrition for individuals and families. These are the places that meet needs with action, and for children, they can be a vital link between their hungry bellies and a consistent source of food. Some organizations take a holistic view of the issue and provide educational and emotional-social support, and opportunities for recreational activities, as well as food. Other organizations focus on homeless children who may need additional community assistance. Many FRN chapters work with these organizations in order to effectively reach our most vulnerable populations. The long-standing relationship between these non-profits and FRN chapters are a sizeable part of the life source of the movement for food recovery.

Students at Carleton College tabling their recovered food

Students at Carleton College tabling their recovered food

The FRN chapter at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota partners with several non-profit organizations in their food recovery efforts. One of them is A Child’s Delight Too, Inc., a daycare center and after-school program for at-risk teens and children. The chapter at Carleton College began partnering with them in 2015; they donate foods like produce and meat about once a week. In FRN’s 2017 Partner Agency Survey, A Child’s Delight Too, Inc. reported that they served 2,500 meals that incorporated food donated from FRN. The director, Caren Hoffman, said, “70% of the children we serve are on free or reduced lunch. [FRN] has introduced them and our staff to a wider variety of foods and ways to prepare them. Extra food that we send home with the children has provided food for them on the weekend when it is very much needed.”

Another FRN partner agency with a similar mission, Cornerstone Kids Inc, is located in Tampa, Florida. Their stated mission is, “to reach at-risk inner-city children and assist in their educational, spiritual, and emotional development in a safe, secure and nurturing environment.” They facilitate a summer program and provide enrichment activities and lunch. During the school year, they have an afterschool program with activities, homework assistance, and tutoring; hot meals are also served daily.

Children at Cornerstone Kids Inc. enjoying their meals.

Children at Cornerstone Kids Inc. enjoying their meals.

The FRN chapter at the University of Tampa, established in 2017, provides more than just a variety of food to Cornerstone Kids Inc. In addition to the hundred pounds of fresh fruit donated each semester to the afterschool program, the student volunteers of FRN also use their visits as opportunities to educate the kids about food waste. Jennifer Campbell, a co-founder and current alum of the chapter, talks about one of her favorite moments with the students during an interactive lesson they were, “so excited to talk about farming, food shopping, and cooking.”  She continues, “we have the ability to create stronger bonds with the children in hopes of becoming good role models for them who are passionate about food sustainability and other environmental issues.” In the eyes of Cornerstone Kids Inc., “it has been a wonderful relationship overall;” the money that FRN helps them save allows them to hire more staff and pay for ongoing operating costs.

Another partnership that focuses on building understanding is between the FRN chapter at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and an organization called Children and Family Urban Movement (CFUM). The partnership started in 2014; Drake’s FRN chapter donates recovered food to them about twice a month during the semester. Brittany Freeman, the current president of the chapter, describes this important relationship, “[we] strive to bridge the gap between our students and our neighborhood. By recovering the food from our dining centers and taking it to organizations like CFUM, students become acquainted with the non-profits missions, their staff, and their daily work.”

Students from Towson University during the food recovery process.

Students from Towson University during the food recovery process.

To understand the impact of FRN and non-profit organizations on food insecure children, we must also consider those children facing homelessness -- both those populations that attend school and those that do not. According to a 2014 report by the American Institutes for Research, nearly 2.5 million children are homeless in the United States. That is equivalent to one out of every 30 children. City Rescue Mission works in Jacksonville, Florida and St. Vincent De Paul works in Baltimore, Maryland to support affected communities there. Without the aid of these organizations, the children in the surrounding communities would have to face the hardships of finding safety and food on their own.

The chapter at Jacksonville University partnered with City Rescue Mission in the spring of 2018. During that semester, they donated 3,500 pounds of recovered food to this organization “that provides food, clothing, shelter, emergency services and residential recovery programs to homeless men, women, and women with children.” The City Rescue Mission opens its doors to anyone in search of a meal or a place to stay for the night. The chapter at Jacksonville University stepped through those doors to provide food that would have otherwise gone to waste on their campus.

Celebrating their food recovery accomplishments at Jacksonville University

Celebrating their food recovery accomplishments at Jacksonville University

The church of St. Vincent De Paul in Baltimore has several programs to support the homeless community. One program in particular, called Sarah’s Hope, provides meals, youth activities and tutoring, adult education classes, and housing placements. The FRN chapter of Towson University began partnering with them in the spring of 2018. In that year alone, they donated 2,110 pounds of food to Sarah’s Hope.

Children don’t have a say in how food systems operate in our country, but they pay the price. We need to face this ugly truth: 40% of the food we produce is wasted while 13 million children may not know when their next healthy meal will be. However, FRN is changing that narrative. Chapters provide a constant supply of healthy foods to organizations that work directly with food insecurity among children. Their partnerships with local non-profit organizations in their community create relationships and opportunities for community involvement that can expand beyond the donation of the food. Supporting this growing movement against food waste means highlighting chapters and organizations like these who make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.

Heather Banikas is the Research and Outreach VISTA at Food Recovery Network. She connects issues seen during her year as a 2017-2018 AmeriCorps literacy tutor for elementary students to our current food paradox.

Kicking off the New Year by Making History!

On January 15th, Food Recovery Network (FRN) completed its second annual food recovery from the Winter Fancy Food Show, hosted by Specialty Food Association at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. With the help of 100+ incredible volunteers, we recovered 33,273 pounds of food, officially making it FRN National’s largest, single-day food recovery to date!

Volunteers bring recovered food from exhibit booths to consolidation zones, where food is packed into pallets for delivery to Delancey Street Foundation.

Volunteers bring recovered food from exhibit booths to consolidation zones, where food is packed into pallets for delivery to Delancey Street Foundation.

As a Food Recovery Verified Fellow, I feel fortunate to have been onsite for this unique recovery effort; it was an experience unlike any other. Meeting our volunteers, feeling their excitement, watching as recovered food accumulated, and knowing that every morsel would be used to help feed food insecure individuals made for an excellent day. Not only did we recover a record-breaking amount of food, but FRN more than doubled the number of volunteers involved and forged new partnerships in the process.

We happily welcomed more than 100 volunteers, representing 25 different companies, organizations, and universities, to help collect and pack surplus food from vendors at the Winter Fancy Food Show. People traveled from all over to join us for this recovery and some even flew from across the country to assist, simply because they understand and believe in the significance of our work.

For one day, a group of people united around a mission to fight food waste, but the longevity and impact of that effort is endless.

FRN would like to thank Clif Bar, the Feedfeed, Robert Half Technology, The Town Kitchen, and Woodard & Curran, as well as student and alumni groups from San Francisco State University and the University of Maryland, in particular. Each of these groups were instrumental in promoting our call for volunteers across their networks and ensuring we had enough volunteers to reach our recovery goal! After the event, Rachel Gross from Woodard & Curran said, “This is a really fun event! It's high energy, high impact, and fun to see all of the different fancy foods that get donated.”

Giora Stuchiner, Art Director at Feedfeed, organizes perishable food items in the South Hall Consolidation Zone.

Giora Stuchiner, Art Director at Feedfeed, organizes perishable food items in the South Hall Consolidation Zone.

The energy from our volunteers, their joy and the positivity that oozed from every conversation fueled an incredibly successful recovery. I was reminded of what is possible when people mobilize to support an important cause. For one day, a group of people united around a mission to fight food waste, but the longevity and impact of that effort is endless. As volunteers worked together throughout the afternoon, they fostered connections, developed a deeper sense of community, and ultimately diverted thousands of pounds of food from going to waste.

Stephanie Muller, Director of Development at Delancey Street Foundation (left) with Regina Anderson, Executive Director at Food Recovery Network (right) are all smiles as recovered food is delivered and unpacked in the Delancey Street kitchen.

Stephanie Muller, Director of Development at Delancey Street Foundation (left) with Regina Anderson, Executive Director at Food Recovery Network (right) are all smiles as recovered food is delivered and unpacked in the Delancey Street kitchen.

For the second year in a row, all of the food recovered from the Winter Fancy Food Show was donated to Delancey Street Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides critical support to individuals recovering from substance and/or alcohol abuse and those formerly incarcerated as they reintegrate into the community. Much of the surplus food will be utilized for their culinary training program, where it will be converted into meals for residents and workers at their San Francisco campus. “We pack bag lunches for our delivery drivers and other workers daily. It’s great that we can use a lot of really nice, healthy foods from the event for that purpose,” said Stephanie Muller, Director of Development at Delancey Street Foundation.

This is enough food to feed 25 people three meals per day, every day for an entire year!

You might wonder, what does 33,000 pounds of food actually look like? With a number so large, it’s hard to envision what this means so I’ll do my best to break it down. The amount of food recovered from this single event equates to roughly 27,000 meals. To put that into perspective, this is enough food to feed 25 people three meals per day, every day for an entire year! How amazing is that? It’s so heartwarming to think that the work we accomplished in one afternoon will continue to make a difference for others throughout the year.

Whether you recover enough food for one meal or thousands of meals, the time dedicated to fighting food waste matters to someone else on the receiving end.

The Delancey Street Foundation’s kitchen crew give thanks for the recovered food.

The Delancey Street Foundation’s kitchen crew give thanks for the recovered food.

When I reflect on the success of this recovery, I come back to the people who made it possible. Every person involved in bringing this day to fruition has made an impact in ways they will likely never see or fully understand. However, Daniza Acenas, a volunteer from San Francisco State University, described her service beautifully, “it is one way to reflect on how much we can positively affect people’s lives by giving them the basic necessities, empathy, and hope.” It’s invigorating to know that whether you recover enough food for one meal or thousands of meals, the time dedicated to fighting food waste matters to someone else on the receiving end.

Thank you again to all who made this event so special! I left San Francisco inspired to build off the momentum we created at the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show recovery, and I am certain that this will be a great year as we continue to fight food waste and feed more people.

Mobilizing Our Chapter: Moving Beyond Food

With an average of 12 to 15 recoveries each week, our SUNY ESF and Syracuse University FRN chapter has learned to manage a large operation. We continually discuss ways to expand and grow our influence in the broader Syracuse community. The concept driving our expansion was clear this semester: “How can we effectively and appropriately connect with our partner agencies beyond recovered food?” During a planning meeting to determine how to allocate our budget, we decided that we wanted to devote our financial resources to bolstering the nonprofit agencies we care so deeply about in new and unique ways.


With nine committed partner agencies serving hundreds of individuals daily, the support we provide through our recovered food is essential to their success. What is important to consider, and what we have realized over recent semesters, is that food certainly does not represent quality of life as a whole. Instead, quality of life is is dependent upon love, connection, and comfort in addition to the most basic resources. We felt that it was our responsibility, as a functioning and capable network of caring volunteers, to consider how we could provide new resources and supplies. Our first step was clear: Reach out.

Food certainly does not represent quality of life as a whole.

“The FRN Agency Supply Survey” was our method of reaching out so that we could support our partner agencies on a new level. We designed questions, keeping in mind that some agencies might need food handling materials, while others might be more interested in non-food related items. We created a Google Document that both our Executive Board (E-board) and our partner agencies could access and edit. Our survey was quite open ended, we simply asked: “Please provide a short list of things you want or need...along with approximate quantities. As we are working with multiple agencies, we will do our best to fulfill your request to the best of our ability. :) ”


The results? Everything we could have hoped for and then some. Our partner agencies fully embraced the idea, and we received immediate responses from five of them. Some of the items were to be  expected, such as food recovery materials, including food storage containers, gloves for handling food and clear wrap or tin foil. However, some agencies also requested notebooks and writing utensils for both residents to use and for office operations. Hats, gloves and socks were priorities for some given the cold weather. Others asked for cleaning supplies such as brooms and dustpans in order to maintain clean spaces for their residents.

One request, that was a pleasant surprise, was for volunteers to assist with the agency’s after school programming. To address this request, we created a connection with an environmental education club on campus called the Student Environmental Education Coalition (SEEC). They agreed to teach some lessons next semester to the children who visit the nonprofit partner agency.

We are currently in the process of ordering and procuring the items that were requested, which we are able to do thanks to our lively fundraising and devoted budget management. We raised funds through sponsored Chipotle fundraisers, a ‘Breakfast with FRNds’ and other on-campus initiatives.  Maintaining a strong relationship with our school advisor allows us to track expenses. Our fundraising initiatives enable us to accrue resources beyond what is fundamentally essential for recoveries alone. This initiative is ongoing, but certainly something we feel can and should be replicated in FRN chapters across the country.


Communication with partner agencies beyond recoveries can lead to stronger, healthier, and more beneficial relationships. Surveying is an excellent tool for gauging how a chapter can best support their partner agencies beyond food. It is crucial to consider where we can help beyond fighting hunger because food does not represent quality of life entirely. Now that our E-board has made this project possible, we are confident that we can continue to address the additional needs of our partner agencies in the future. This type of project is ideal for E-boards who want to collaborate with their partner agencies further and are confident with the food recovery process.

We are excited that agency supply surveys could spread to other chapters, and hope we can help with any questions or ideas regarding the process.

Our Executive Board can be contacted through our Facebook page or email:

#FRNSpeaks: Cameron Warren & Olivia Biro, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Cameron Warren (CW) is the Social Media Manager for the Food Recovery Network at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (UNCG). She began volunteering with Food Recovery Network her first semester at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the Fall 2016 Semester. In the Spring 2017 semester, the Social Media Manager Executive Board Member position opened up. She applied for the position and the rest is history.

Olivia Biro (OB), is an FRN volunteer at UNCG. She got involved with FRN my freshman year of college, when Cameron told her about the organization. She enjoys doing recoveries and meeting sustainability-conscious people through the organization. She was chosen as Volunteer of the Month last year, and she hopes to continue and expand her involvement in FRN at UNCG.

Olivia (left) and Cameron (right) enjoying the vegan potluck.

Olivia (left) and Cameron (right) enjoying the vegan potluck.

On Monday, November 12, 2018, we attended the Civil Rights, Food Justice, and Climate Change event sponsored by UNCG’s Environment and Sustainability Program, the African-American Diaspora Studies Program, and the Humanities Network and Consortium. There was such a great turnout and we were so happy that we could be there to represent FRN!

“environmental issues, health issues, and food issues derive from an imbalance and unfair distribution of power.” He later said that “there is no such thing as food deserts; there are only power deserts.”

CW: The event held a vegan potluck with food provided by the students in Dr. Meredith Powers' "Environmental Justice" course. The food varied from beans, vegan sushi, soups, to vegan dips, and vegan cookies; it was really cool and I really appreciated the amount of effort these students put in to provide a dinner that everyone could eat.

Chef Kabui presenting to the students at UNCG

Chef Kabui presenting to the students at UNCG

The keynote speaker for the event was Chef Njathi Kabui, an internationally celebrated organic chef, urban farmer, and food activist. He told captivating stories from his childhood growing up in Kenya. He spoke about the intersection of issues related to food justice, public health, race, and colonialism. He made a statement that night that will resonate with me for a lifetime. He said that “environmental issues, health issues, and food issues derive from an imbalance and unfair distribution of power.” He later said that “there is no such thing as food deserts; there are only power deserts.” Chef Kabui provided a fresh and new perspective on issues relating to civil rights, food justice, and sustainability.

OB: Kabui then went on to say that food is “the most political thing you will ever touch in your life.” His stories made me think about the many forms that activism and social justice can take, particularly when agriculture and the environment are the central issues. FRN is a way to remind myself and others of the problem food waste presents while working towards a solution. If food is one of the most political things I will ever touch, food recoveries are political action.

“In this country, we do not have a food shortage problem; we have a food distribution problem and it's directly linked to the unequal distribution of power.”

CW: Before I began my work with the Food Recovery Network, I thought that people were poor because they grew up in hard, unfortunate situations and were having a difficult time overcoming those circumstances. However, working on more recoveries and attending this event have made me see more clearly how these unfortunate situations are linked to a disproportion of power between communities, especially communities that have historically been disadvantaged and discriminated against. In this country, we do not have a food shortage problem; we have a food distribution problem and it's directly linked to the unequal distribution of power. As I move forward through my Food Recovery Network experience, I will use my privilege to help those communities that are underprivileged and bring awareness to this issue.

Reflections on the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in nYC

One of the many perks of living in Washington, DC is being a stone's throw away from New York City, which is home to a myriad of conferences and events centered around the new food movement. On October 3rd, I was able to make the hop to the Big Apple for Food Tank’s second annual Summit in NYC - focused on food loss and food waste. It was a day filled with food movement heavyweights including Haile Thomas of HAPPY; Dan Barber of Blue Hill; and representatives from the NRDC, Feeding America, and ReFED.

A prominent national non-profit, Food Tank has filled a necessary role in the new food movement serving as a think tank and incubator around food. They elevate ideas and innovations that will move our food system into a new era: a reorganization of our food system to provide nutrition for those in need and the millions more who will join the planet as our population continues to grow. A vital component of this is ensuring that the new proposed systems are just; prioritizing and honoring the cultural heritage of food and its growers, eradicating food deserts in urban areas, and further managing our excess food and waste in a way that is social and environmentally sound.  

The summit was brimming with diverse ideas and thoughtful insights. However, as the new food movement begins to solidify and take shape, some contradictory ideas are starting to compete for space to be heard and valued. Sentiments ranged from chef Marco Canora wanting to increase the value of food to prevent waste: “I really think everyone needs to spend more money on food,” to Sheryll Durrant, a non-profit organizer, who thinks that “[disadvantaged communities] shouldn’t pay for their food- it’s a resource that keeps us alive.” There was also conflict around where to spend energy innovating. Brad Nelson, from Marriott International, sees the need to “[raise] awareness that this is a food recovery problem, not a food cost problem [in the restaurant industry].” In contrast to Marion Nestle’s views, a NYU Professor, that food recovery operates as a secondary parallel food system to our primary one, and believes this should be changed through politics.

Representing FRN, I was most excited for the panel on “Improving Food Recovery.” The panel was incredibly well represented with a diverse range of key players; the NRDC, a local NYC Food Pantry, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, a local food recovery non-profit: New York Common Pantry, Feeding America, and ReFED. Here are four main takeaways I took from their food recovery discussion:

1. Increasing Awareness of Food Recovery

Karen Hanner, from Feeding America, said that the greatest challenge she faces with food recovery is simply awareness. She called for accountability from every player in the food supply chain to be aware of their waste and recognize that safe food recovery can happen at any step in the supply chain.

2. Healthy Food Donations and Distribution with Dignity


Andre Thompson, the Director of Food Programs at New York Common Pantry, spoke about the vital importance of healthy food being donated. His pantry primarily serves the Bronx and East Harlem, which have the lowest health indexes out of all of NYC’s counties. Many chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease are linked to poor diet, and New York Common Pantry is trying to combat these health issues. “We are feeding stomachs, but we don’t want to feed the disease,” Thompson said. Most of the food that is served in their soup kitchen and pantry is rescued. Thompson stressed the importance of having strong enough relationships with donors to begin the conversation around healthy food donations: “It’s a very difficult conversation to have...we want to ensure the [food] we are handing off is nutritious.”

Thompson also spoke about upholding the dignity of the people who come to his pantry. One way to maintain that dignity is through choice. “We offer a choice pantry model, where you are able to place your order on a touch screen tablet, so you have a choice in selecting the food items [that are] going into your pantry package.”

3. Raising Food Waste on the Political and Corporate Agenda

Chris Cochran, the Executive Director of ReFED, spoke about how we can use metrics to help the food recovery movement. He emphasized how economic gains from tax incentives are a strong motivator for businesses to recover their food. Cohran contrasted that with economic burden of food waste, “When we look at this problem, it’s not just the percentage [of food wasted], it’s actually 218 billion dollars [wasted] in the US.” He also stressed the importance of tracking food waste data saying, “Measurement creates management.” Cochran gave a shout out to Spoiler Alert, a non-profit that helps companies develop food waste tracking software and form reduction and donation plans.

Bonnie McClafferty, from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, talked about her experience convincing African governments to prioritize food waste reduction. She emphasized that discussing the health and economic benefits of food waste reduction helps to build a stronger coalition invested in this cause; “Food waste is coming to the agenda because of the economic issue in an agricultural economy, but also because of the global health issue.”


4. Improving the System through Innovation.  

The most important takeaway from the panel was how beneficial idea sharing and innovation can be. The key classes of innovation are technology, focusing on the consumer, and earned revenue models.

Technology. ReFED currently tracks 500 companies in the business world for the innovations it is producing, 100 of which Cochran says are squarely in the food sector world. He highlighted the launch of Uber Freight -a hauling service - and how that new technology could be a potential partnership with Feeding America.

Consciously Redesigning the Food System. McClafferty gave an example from her work in Nairobi where food distribution is designed with the consumer in mind. On the outskirts of the Kibera slums there are milk ATM machines, which will depense milk for a fixed monetary rate. That way, if an individual does not have the ability to refrigerate their milk they could buy only what they would use that day, or purchase whatever amount they are able to afford. This example highlights how the food system can begin to shift to be designed for the food insecure and poor.

Earned Revenue Models. Robert Lee who co-founded Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a food recovery non-profit in NYC, spoke about his non-profit business model. They charge clients a fee to pick up their excess food, but in return produce detailed monthly data reports on the amount of food donated so that these businesses can easily file the IRS Form 8283 to claim enhanced tax deductions. “[Food Recovery] needs to be mutually beneficial for everyone,” stressed Lee. Cochran highlighted Rescuing Leftover Cuisine as an example of how non-profits and other organizations in this industry are starting to innovate: by incorporating earned revenue models to compliment their grant funding. He predicts that the future of food recovery is bright; “We truly believe it is feasible to double food donations, especially of healthy foods...through these business model innovations.”

This panel greatly re-shaped my thinking on food recovery as a whole, specifically the concept of non-profits incorporating earned revenue models. As FRN matures and grows, this is something for us to consider especially as we expand our Food Recovery Verification (FRV) program. I’m extremely grateful to Food Tank for putting on such an invigorating summit, and am eager to see how the food movement continues to progress.