U.S. PIRG's Zero Hunger Campaign Aims to End Food Insecurity

Throughout my years as an undergraduate at the College of William & Mary, I was devoted to activism. I joined the executive board of the NAACP in my first semester of college and later became a leader in Black Lives Matter Williamsburg. I loved working with both of these organizations and dedicated much of my time to them. I worked with organizers to create a better and more supportive campus environment for all students of color. Despite logistical dilemmas, struggles to get adequate funding, and difficulty in choosing precisely what kind of events we should put on, the biggest challenge by far involved none of the above. The biggest challenge to me was myself.

I constantly struggled with my internal thoughts about how to create lasting change. I felt that activism on campus often turned into an annual to-do list of the same tactics, showing few signs of making a change in our community. Of course, it was important to hold educational events, which was the norm, and great to have annual, recognizable events for consistency and higher visibility. But somewhere in the process, we became too fixated on the tactics rather than the goal. Where was the acknowledgment of the systemic nature of the issues we were trying to solve? Where were the lasting solutions that could make lives better?

There is absolutely no reason anyone should go hungry when we produce plenty of food for everyone. This is why I want to fight for zero hunger.

We had a Campus Kitchen’s chapter on campus, and I volunteered there once, just before Thanksgiving. I was not particularly aware of food insecurity in my community at the time (however, I did notice the immense amount of food waste in our dining halls). Volunteering that one day was eye-opening. I saw just how many families received full Thanksgiving meals from recovered food and how much food was recovered. The only reason why I never went back was that I thought perhaps this was only a band-aid solution and perhaps the work of the NAACP and BLM could find a systemic way to combat the issue of hunger in a world of abundance.

Now I am an organizer with U.S. PIRG. As the Zero Hunger Campaign Associate, I advocate for a systemic solution to hunger.

 
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Our Zero Hunger campaign focuses on ending hunger by getting the abundant food we have to the people who can use it. Getting food to people who need it goes hand-in-hand with cutting food waste. We are calling on college and universities across the nation to commit to a goal of zero hunger. We want to show that this is an achievable goal; through solutions such as food rescue, meal swipe donation programs, food pantries, community gardens, and more, we can end hunger.

There is absolutely no reason anyone should go hungry when we produce plenty of food for everyone. This is why I want to fight for zero hunger, and why I return to organizations like the Food Recovery Network and Campus Kitchens. They are dedicated to food rescue, but also to redirecting the resources we have that would otherwise we wasted to those in need.

With Zero Hunger, I hope that together, we can create a movement nationally that will fight hunger with the guiding principle that we do not have to make more to have enough. We have enough for everyone, we just have to make better use of our resources. We have wasted our food and resources for too long; now we must stop wasting our time. Let’s fight for Zero Hunger.

To learn more about this campaign and how to join our national movement to end hunger, please contact Damiana Dendy at ddendy@pirg.org. All interest and questions are welcome!

6 takeaways from The 2018 D.C. Food Tank Summit

On Feb. 28, several members of the FRN National team attended the Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. Our team at FRN, the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in the nation, felt particularly drawn to the summit’s theme: “Cultivating the Next Generation of Young Food Leaders.”

In addition, FRN’s Executive Director, Regina Northouse, was invited to speak at the summit on a panel titled, “Advocating for Future Farmers and Eaters.” Northouse said that one thing everyone can do to support farmers is to stop wasting the food they work so hard to produce. "What Food Recovery Network is trying to do is trying to ensure that the food that we do grow in this country doesn't go to waste," Northouse said. "Currently 10 million tons of food that our amazing farmers are growing is either left on the vine, tilled underground – just doesn't get to the people who need it most." 

After the event concluded, the FRN chapter at George Washington University recovered 140 pounds of surplus food from the summit and donated it to an on-campus food pantry, making it a Food Recovery Verified event. If you want to verify your next event, apply here or learn more by emailing foodrecoveryverified@foodrecoverynetwork.org. 

Our team had an incredible time learning from and speaking with the food industry professionals at Food Tank. Below are some of our thoughts and takeaways from the summit. 

 

1. we need creative solutions to improve our food system 

"It’s not every day you get to sit in a room among political figures, business owners, local farmers, and other key players in the food system. Food Tank excels at bringing people together for meaningful conversation, and I thoroughly enjoyed attending the D.C. summit. Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, moderated the first panel: “Growing Farmers Around the Globe,” and asked the panelists: “If you had a magic wand, how would you use it?” Each woman shared a different idea — while focusing on realistic, tangible solutions — like building infrastructure so farmers can get their crops to market or creating equitable access to resources for people of color. This is a group of problem solvers, and they’re working to share their skills with those trailblazing new paths."

– hc, Program Manager

2. young farmers and activists are the future

"I greatly appreciated the summit’s emphasis on cultivating the next generation of leaders and more specifically, the Young Farmer Spotlight. Each presenter’s dedication to farming reminded the audience that this is not just a profession, but a lifestyle. Furthermore, it’s the origin of our food, and these young leaders represent the future of that movement. Their stories motivated me to learn more about the farming industry and develop a relationship between the food I eat and where it comes from."

      – Paul Sherman, Program and Resource Development Fellow

"I particularly appreciated hearing from the keynote speaker, Haile Thomas, who is the founder and CEO of The Happy Organization. Her story really demonstrated the value of including young people in the conversations surrounding food and showcased the amazing change they will go on to create."    

   – Sam Yates, Research & Outreach VISTA

3. We need to make farming a sustainable career path

"Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, discussed successes over the past decade in starting conversations about food systems and the sustainability of agriculture. But her main point was that, despite elevating the issue, there has yet to be tangible, positive change. Her goal is to work towards creating long-term, sustainable careers in agriculture." 

 – Paloma Sisneros-Lobato, Food Recovery Verified VISTA

4. food justice is personal 

"I was really struck by the story of Violet King, an urban farmer with Dreaming Out Loud in Washington, D.C. “I got involved in the food system because I know what it’s like to be a mother and have children and to have limited access to healthy food,” King said. Through urban gardening and low-cost CSAs, she has been able to improve access to high quality fruits and vegetables for her food insecure neighbors. King’s deeply personal knowledge of the food system and fierce advocacy for the folks in her community is incredibly inspiring."

     - Hayley Brundige, Communications and Partner Engagement Fellow

5. food can be political...and politicians can be farmers, too

"It was interesting to hear a conversation about agriculture and food policy between a Democrat from the East Coast, Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and a Republican from the West Coast, Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA). As the moderator, Helena Bottemiller Evich from POLITICO, pointed out, not many people realize that some members of Congress are farmers themselves. While Rep. Pingree agreed that many issues related to food and agriculture can attain broad bipartisan agreement in Congress, “nutrition is where we really kind of get in disagreement, and it tends to be about SNAP...and these things get very volatile and controversial.” Notably, she mentioned the Trump Administration’s idea of sending SNAP recipients “harvest boxes” as being particularly 'problematic.'"

     – Hayley Brundige, Communications and Partner Engagement Fellow

6. food businesses can make an impact  

"The afternoon 'Fireside Chat' featuring founders of companies like Honest Tea, MOM’s Organic Market, and Sir Kensington’s, was very interesting because of how it differed from other chats and panels. It sparked thoughts about the many ways food businesses can impact the food system. Some businesses support local farmers by only utilizing those local ingredients in their products, while others encourage organic farming practices by supplying only organic foods in their stores. Food businesses can even donate surplus food to a local non-profit to divert food waste from landfills and ensure that the resources that went into producing such food is used and not lost.

"These businesses can even gain recognition for implementing some of these practices. Food Recovery Network's program, Food Recovery Verified, provides recognition for businesses who do such work. It is programs like these that will continue to support the evolution of best practices for all food businesses."

           – Paloma Sisneros-Lobato, Food Recovery Verified VISTA

 

Our team had an incredible experience at the Washington, D.C. Food Tank Summit. To learn more about how you can attend or host a watch party for the two upcoming Food Tank summits in Seattle and Boston, visit our page.

“Love of FRNds” Event Brings Together FRN Community

Food Recovery Network’s “Love of FRNds” holiday party was a great way for me to see the passion of the FRN team in action. As a new intern, it was confirmation that I want to join the FRN team in spreading its message - one that is dedicated to limiting food waste and reducing food insecurity.

Seeing the 85 FRN staff members and guests present at the offices of Sidley Austin LLP in downtown D.C. on Feb. 8 was inspiring. It was obvious that everyone at the event was present for a shared purpose, a sentiment expressed by Michael Boyd, communications and development fellow and holiday party co-planner. Research and Outreach VISTA Sam Yates also organized the event, which included selecting student speakers and decorating the modern space. The goal of the party, according to the FRN team, was to showcase FRN’s vital role in the food recovery movement and to thank those who assist the nonprofit in fighting waste and feeding people.

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Light refreshments and hors d'oeuvres were donated by the law firm and neatly arranged on white linen tablecloths, available for guests’ enjoyment. Participants had the opportunity to mingle and partake in a silent auction, which offered items ranging from dinner with Executive Director Regina Northouse to artwork, yoga classes, and museum tickets. “FRNds” were also encouraged to purchase FRN swag, such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, pins, and tote-bags, to support the organization.

The money raised from the event — a whopping total of $2,400 — is going to be used to support FRN’s 235 chapters in 44 states and Washington, D.C.

“We treat every dollar that comes to our office like it’s five dollars,” said Northouse of FRN’s creativity and resourcefulness. From my experience at FRN thus far, I can definitely confirm that that’s true.

About midway through the event, guests gathered — some standing, due to the large turnout — to hear Bill McConagha of FRN’s National Board of Directors, Northouse, and FRN student leaders Annika Vaerst, Manuela Romero, and Ogechi Onwuemenyi speak.

McConagha, who is a partner in the Sidley Austin LLP Food and Drug Practice and joined FRN’s national Board of Directors in September, praised students’ “incredible work” and for “effectuating their vision[s]” into reality.

Vaerst, University of Maryland’s chapter president, told the crowd how UMD hit their 200 thousandth pound of food recovered last fall. UMD, which was founded in 2012 as FRN’s first chapter, remains one of the network’s top recoverers, according to the senior chemical engineering major.

“We are not about complacency,” Vaerst said. “At FRN, we are never finished because we always know there’s more to do.”

Romero, George Washington University’s FRN chapter president, explained how her team had to adapt to GW’s dining-hall-free campus by facilitating recoveries after campus events.

“Event organizers order tons and tons of extra food because they don’t want anyone to leave the event hungry,” the junior biology major said, adding that much food would go to waste at GW if not for FRN.

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Onwuemenyi, a senior English and Philosophy double major and soon-to-be president of FRN’s new Howard University chapter, expressed how he “spent a great deal of time and effort” this past fall working with the Howard administration to implement FRN on his campus.

Northouse, who has been working for the nonprofit for almost three years, concluded the presentation with a toast.

“There are so many incredible people in this room that I’m really blown away,” Northouse said, smiling.

She thanked FRN staff and affiliates, including Sidley Austin LLP for hosting, the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, Hungry Harvest, The Campus Kitchens Project, and D.C. Central Kitchen.

“I am just blessed every day to work with really cool people,” Northouse said of the FRN National team. “That doesn’t even do justice to how awesome this crew is.” She urged members of the audience to donate money to support FRN.

“Truly, when you support FRN that’s what you’re supporting,” Northouse said. “You’re supporting people getting fed today, tomorrow, and the next day.”

As Lark Lewis, a friend of Boyd who attended the event, said, FRN is all about “fighting the good fight.” Perhaps that is because most in the organization feel there is always more to do — a sentiment Vaerst expressed in her speech.

“At FRN, we are never finished,” Vaerst said. “We never take success as finished.”

 
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As I sit here in FRN’s College Park headquarters, it’s dark outside, yet the office is bustling with productivity. Keys are clicking, conversation is happening. Meetings are happening, emails are sending. My view: a green painted map with post-it notes marking FRN chapters across the country. There’s almost more paper than paint; almost more color than green. Yet, something tells me that the nonprofit will still continue to plan.

AmeriCorps Week 2018

This week, March 12-16, is AmeriCorps VISTA week. FRN is honored to partner with such an incredible organization working to alleviate poverty in its many forms. To celebrate this week, Sam Yates talked with some of the other VISTAs who work at FRN.

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My name is Sam Yates, and I am the Research and Outreach VISTA at FRN. My primary job involves creating an intentional outreach program to expand to more college and university campuses, to supplement the organic growth  FRN has experienced up to this point. I also support with planning fundraisers, guiding Chapters in Progress (CHIPs) and Official Chapters in their challenges, and general office operations. I love my job because I work with amazing colleagues every day to support students who fight food waste and feed.

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I decided that I wanted to be an AmeriCorps VISTA when I was a sophomore in college. Investing time and energy in my community has always been an important part of my life and serving through AmeriCorps has allowed me to be engaged beyond my undergraduate years. I am very grateful to VISTA for the professional development I have gained through this experience; I have learned about how the nonprofit sector functions, collaborated in an office environment, planned fundraising events, and so much more. Perhaps more important, I have grown personally and deepened my knowledge about food sustainability, the careers that I would be interested in, and what strengths I bring to the table when problem-solving.

There are several other amazing VISTAs at FRN who I have the pleasure of working with every day. We asked them a couple of questions so you can hear why we all love being VISTAs.

What have you gained from this experience?

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Sarah Diamond: Being a VISTA has greatly improved my leadership skills and experience. I have managed the creation of the first-ever Student and Alumni Advisory Board, which was created in response to students’ requests to be even more involved with the long-term strategic plan of Food Recovery Network as an organization. I have also had extensive professional development experiences including attending conferences and speaking on panels. This VISTA year has been incredibly beneficial, and I feel so confident about continuing into my professional career with this as my foundation.

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Robert Hopp: I have gained valuable knowledge and skills related to working in a professional environment such as new technological programs and workplace communication strategies. This experience will translate well to my next job and as time goes on, my career. I have also gained a network of friends that are passionate about what they do and who enjoy helping people.

 

 

Why did you choose to pursue a VISTA year?

SD: I chose to pursue a VISTA year with FRN because I worked with FRN during all four years of undergrad. The mission of this organization is so important to me, and so important to the hundreds of other chapter leaders across the country. I wanted to stay involved with FRN after graduation, and I wanted to help other graduating student leaders and alumni stay involved as well. I accepted a position as the Alumni Programs VISTA so that I could work on these passions and help keep young people involved with FRN’s mission.

RH: I chose to pursue a VISTA year in order to work on food related issues while gaining valuable experience. I knew that FRN and VISTA would give me the opportunity to do that. There is also the knowledge that the work I am doing is helping people in need that motivated me.

What is your favorite part of your job as a VISTA?

SD: My favorite part of my job as a VISTA is getting to work so closely with our students on the ground. We work with more than 230 chapters all over the country, and being able to help them through the process of finding partner agencies, navigating their first few recoveries, and witnessing their passion for this work makes coming in to work every day so exciting. Food Recovery Network National is located right outside of Washington, D.C., where incredible networking opportunities in the fields of food, policy, and environment exist all the time, so my professional development here as a VISTA has been amazing.

RH:
My favorite part of my job as a VISTA is watching the progress that this organization makes. Every pound of food that we recover, every chapter that we approve, and every person that shares our story on social media makes me feel proud to work here. And because of VISTA's mission of capacity building, I know that this progress will continue into the future.


If you would like to learn more about becoming a VISTA at FRN, please email careers@foodrecoverynetwork.org

#FRNSpeaks: Zeel Vora, University of Houston

Every FRN student leader has something that inspires them to fight waste and feed people. Sometimes, it’s a passion to feed their community or a personal connection to serving those around them. Zeel Vora, president of the University of Houston chapter, is no exception. Zeel is also a Regional Outreach Coordinator and will be hosting a summit in Houston, TX. Want connect with Zeel about her story or summit? Email us at programs@foodrecoverynetwork.org and we’ll get you connected! Read below to hear Zeel’s inspiring story about her passion for FRN:

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Hi fellow FRNds! I’m Zeel, like banana peel with a “Z”, from the University of Houston! I’m currently pursuing a degree in Public Health with a minor in Biology, and (hopefully) graduating in May 2018. I am taking a year off after graduation to work and “adult” for a little while, and then applying to law school! In the past few years, outside of FRN, I’ve been involved in Student Government, my University’s Housing department, and volunteering at Houston’s animal shelter and children’s hospital!

My mom passed away six weeks into my first year of college. For a long time, I was lost and didn’t know how to cope. I had never dealt with loss before and I had lost my motivation completely. On February 6, 2015, my friend Yash asked me if I would drive him to Panera Bread to do a recovery (one of the first official recoveries by UHouston’s FRN chapter!). I agreed, not caring too much about the organization but more because I was doing a favor for a friend. When we arrived at the donation site to drop off about 100lbs of bread and pastries, I noticed a woman holding a baby with a young child by her side. The child came up to me and asked me if he could have a cookie, and was elated when I let him choose between chocolate chip and M&M.

I realized then that we were at an 24/7 emergency shelter for women to come with their children if they need to escape a dangerous situation. This young child had probably witnessed things far more horrible than I could imagine, yet it only took a cookie to bring a smile on his face, and I was hooked. On the drive back to campus, I asked Yash if he was looking to bring in more officers, and the rest is history. FRN became a sort of escape for me, as I was doing something that not only helped others, but helped me feel proud of myself again. I knew that my mom would have been proud of me too.

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I learned more and more about the historically underserved community my university is located in, and about the implications of food waste. FRN quickly became a cause I dedicated all of my time to. Two years later, time came for Yash to graduate and for someone new to become president of the chapter. FRN had already taught me so much about what it meant to be a student leader, and I decided that there was nothing I wanted more than to spend my senior year leading the wonderful group of people that currently make up the UH chapter. I ran for president, luckily uncontested, and while it has been busy and stressful at times, I wouldn’t change it for the world.