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.

Mid-Atlantic Food Recovery Summit


On October 24th, the Food Recovery Network National Office attended the Mid-Atlantic Food Recovery Summit at Bowie State University. The Summit included speakers and panelists from different sectors all committed to reducing food waste. Those in attendance ranged from regulators and national nonprofits to small companies. Despite their differences, everyone was gathered together to share how they work to combat food waste. The FRN National Team greatly enjoyed the conversations of the day. We were all able to learn a tremendous amount about food waste reduction challenges and goal setting tactics. Please see below for a personalized account from each team member about the presentation or topic that they enjoyed most from the day.

Cassie Olovsson: Manager of External Partnerships

Within the first few minutes of the summit, keynote speaker, Tom O’Donnell of EPA Region 3 introduced a tiered approach of how to view food waste reduction goals. This approach would serve as a foundation for the day’s topics. He spoke to the fact that in order for food waste reduction goals to be met, both large, long term and daily, small-scale processes must be at work. With these wonderfully contrasting statements, Tom introduced an overarching theme that shaped how I went about the day. Within the various topics presented at the Summit, there were both large-scale opportunities for food waste reduction and food recovery improvement such as the National Restaurant Association’s efforts to reduce waste. Yet there were also more specific, detailed examples of how one business can make a difference, such as MOMs Organic Market’s effort to reduce and properly recycle waste. Food waste is a monumental issue crossing many sectors, industries, and countries. In order to combat this issue we must collaborate and look to one another to create numerous solutions, both big and small.

Dominique McMillan: Program & Outreach Fellow

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Laura Cassidy from City of Philadelphia Department of Prisons gave a presentation that exemplifies how even a prison program can teach sustainable values, such as composting and urban gardening. In exchange for their commitment to the program, the inmates are considered for early release. The program also offers the inmates the opportunity to earn a vocational certificate from Temple University. Laura finds her work meaningful because she is able to instill positive, sustainable values in the inmates, who she lovingly dubs her “coworkers.” Those that get out of prison after completing the program frequently reach out to thank her for making an impact in their lives and teach them how to positively impact their communities.

Sarah Bellaire: Program & Evaluation Fellow

I found the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) presentation, given by Jeff Clark, to be the most thought provoking from the “Addressing Gap in Surplus Food Donation” panel. The NRA partners with over 500,000 restaurants in the United States. The NRA recently released their 2018 State of Restaurant Sustainability Report, which acts as litmus test for the current state of food recovery in the restaurant sector. The stats were astonishing; of the restaurants polled, 47% track their food waste and only 22% of restaurants actually donate their surplus food. However, the most surprising statistic was that only 31% of restaurants are aware of the liability protection laws for food donation; yet, liability was cited as the highest concern for why restaurants don’t donate their surplus food. This highlights the need for an extensive educational campaign in the restaurant sector if we want to improve food recovery.

Rob Hopp: Evaluation Associate


During the Summit’s “Food Recovery in the Agriculture Sector” breakout session, Lynette Johnson, from Society of St. Andrew, and Amy Cawley, from the Maryland Food Bank focused their presentations on gleaning. They discussed a variety of topics including what gleaning looks like for their organizations, the numerous struggles of both gleaners and farmers, and the impact that gleaning can have on reducing food waste. Lynette, Amy, and their respective organizations would be great resources for all of our chapters that are interested in gleaning. I know they would be happy to have volunteers!

Hannah Cather: Program Manager

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Michelle Bennet, the staff advisor for the University of Delaware’s FRN chapter, believes in student leadership so much so that her presentation during the “Developing College and University Food Recovery Programs” was solely about how she supports the students leading the chapter. She supports her students by asking challenging questions, like “how will you handle consistently recovering food during stressful times of the year, like midterms?” She also holds them accountable to their project goals with questions like, “how’s that chapter handbook coming along?” Not every chapter is lucky enough to have such a supportive cheerleader, but now I have specific examples to share with other staff advisors.

Katie Aguila: Operations Associate

The Summit’s “Waste Reduction in the Hospitality Sector” breakout session brought together a diverse trio of speakers working to change the culture of food waste in hotels and other hospitality venues. The World Wildlife Fund, Hilton Hotels, and Astrapto LLC, a sustainability consulting firm based in Maryland, each gave insights into how they incentivize and implement food recovery initiatives in hospitality companies. I was struck by the differences in scope and scale of their food recovery initiatives, spanning multinational programs like Hilton Hotels’ Americas-wide Food Waste Pilot Program down to venue-specific initiatives like Astrapto’s work with the Baltimore Convention Center. Each organization is shifting our food culture towards waste reduction and food recovery, it reminds me that an equitable and just food system requires players of all sizes.

We want to thank Bowie State University and the Maryland Department of the Environment for hosting such an engaging and fun Summit! We were able to gain more knowledge about the ways other organizations are tackling food waste. We also made many meaningful connections and look forward to strengthening those relationships!

The Case of the Missing Containers: An FRN Horror Story

This story is loosely based on real-life events!

It’s Hallows Eve and there is a sharp cold wind and the trees are whipping back and forth. As you make your way over to the dining hall, you feel as if something is off. The usual excitement is instead replaced with apprehension.  You feel a tingly sensation in your gut. Could it be the mac and cheese from lunch, or is your body telling you something?

The Leadership team is trickling into the kitchen for the highlight of the day: food recovery! Your volunteers gather ‘round for the run of the mill food safety training. As the recovery schedule progresses, there is still this feeling of uncertainty. Something is off. You feel the vibration of your phone in your pocket and it’s a message from the Recovery Coordinator. The notification on your home screen says, “The reusable containers are MISSING!”

Time slows down and the sound of the person reading kitchen safety guidelines muffles in the background. You look up to see your Recovery Coordinator across the room. The sheer panic in their eyes makes your heart to start pound. You’ve only heard the stories of this horror from previous leadership, but you thought it was only a myth. Now, you’re experiencing it first hand. The containers are missing. How? Why now? Who has them? Are they safe?

You don’t want to alert every one of the news, because that will cause pandemonium, but you also can’t stay silent for much longer because the food safety training is almost complete. You are now Sherlock Holmes. The case is for you to solve, and what you do next will determine your legacy. You will either be the one who found and saved the containers or the infamous leadership team who let the unspeakable happen.

You move to the side to speak with the chef in the kitchen, trying not to show the anxiety boiling up inside you, you say, “Houston, we have a problem. Our reusable containers are missing. Would the kitchen have some pans to spare for today?”

The chef, who already makes it a little hard to recover because he would rather not have students in his kitchen, barks, “How did you lose those containers?”

The chef’s look of disdain leaves you with a frog in your throat and a knot in your stomach. You take a shallow breath and say, “I don’t know.”


Your answer does not satisfy the chef he scoffs under his breath and rolls his eyes at you. However, you muster up the courage to say, “We will find them. It is possible we left them at the Partner Agency. The process can be a little difficult at times. But, if you want compensation for the pans today, I will check with the national office about reimbursement.”

The directness of your answer left an impression. He did not expect you to come with a candid response, but it prompted him to grab those aluminum pans. With a bit of reverence, the chef says, “We actually have a few to spare. And don’t worry about the reimbursement. I apologize if I caused any offense. You all do great work and I am sure you will get your containers back from the Partner Agency.”

It is a win, but the reusable containers are still missing.

The recovery is complete and no one is too suspicious about using aluminum pans. Due to your excellent recruitment of volunteer drivers, you do not have to drop the food off at the Partner Agency today.

While the team goes on the delivery, you call the Partner Agency to ask about the pans.

“What do you mean? We already gave you the pans. After your last drop off we sent the pans back with someone.”

“Do you remember who?”

“Is that my job?”

“Thank you for your time. I will continue the search.”

What a phone call! If anyone tells you it is easy to lead, they lied. You just want to get ready for the FRN costume contest with your chapter, but the pan incident is hindering the fun. If dining doesn’t have the pans and your PA doesn’t have the pans, then where are they?

You continue your search for the containers. Hours, days, weeks go by and you keep searching. Where are the containers? Were they stolen? Who would do such a thing?!

You take time to think about your call with the PA, and you remember they gave the pans to someone, but who? Finally, you text the leadership team group chat.


“I think I might know where they are…”  The text you never saw coming.

“Where are they???”

You and your team meet at the South parking lot on campus. There is an odd smell in the air, but you think nothing of it. Who is the culprit? Who has the containers? A volunteer steps forward. “I think the containers are in there.”

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She points to the trunk of her car. Flies are swarming. Could it be? The volunteer grabs her car keys. Pressing the trunk button, the latch pops the trunk. An awful stench hits all of you in the face. The anticipation of the trunk opening makes you all lean in, and to your horror… The containers are crawling with maggots. The sound of them squirming leaves you to gag profusely.

You ask, “How did you not notice the container in your trunk all this time?”

She says, “This car is old. Any sound it makes, I think it is the sound of an aging car. On top of that, I rarely drive, unless it’s for the Friday trip to Chipotle.”

You don’t know if you should be surprised or let out a laugh. All this time, your containers were in the trunk of a volunteer’s car. You let out a deep sigh of relief because the horror is over. Well, for you at least. Your volunteer, not so much.

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Thank you to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for the inspiration!