Q&A with the OCC Food Riders, Part 1

On Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons, while many students at Orange Coast College are in class or planning for the weekend, a cohort of student leaders are preparing for their weekly food recovery rides. For seven years, the OCC Food Riders have become a fixture in Costa Mesa, California by delivering surplus food from the cafeteria on campus, to local nonprofit partners by bicycle. They load up trailers with food, both perishable and nonperishable, attach them to the back of their bicycles, and make the 3.5-mile trip to their nonprofit partners Share Our Selves and the Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene.

Orange Coast College is a two-year community college, and is where the Food Riders first started their journey, and still continues to be their homebase. Each semester, about a dozen Food Riders, who typically stick with the program for at least two semesters before they transfer out to university, embark on the route which they have made over 550 times.

Over e-mail, I spoke with Carl Morgan, founder and permanent faculty advisor of the Food Riders, as well as Roy Duvall, safety officer and treasurer. Carl and Roy discuss how the group came together, how they serve the Costa Mesa community and the keys to remaining a successful organization, which they hope to spread all over the country.

This is the first half of a two-part interview. 

Q: Describe OFFCR's (OCC Food Riders) overall mission and how it fulfills the needs of your community.

ROY: Our mission is to reduce food waste and community hunger by recovering and redirecting quality perishable foods from the OCC Cafeteria. This single-focus mission reduces local landfill volumes, reduces Orange Coast College's pollution footprint, gets local and international students exposed to sustainability at the zip code level. Bicycles are part of our operation, but not part of our mission.

For me, it is simple. Here is some good food. There are some hungry people. I have a bike and trailer.

Was it a challenge to get OCC and the nonprofit partners on board?

CARL: We became an official student club at OCC in January of 2010. However, we did a lot of the preliminary work during the fall of 2009. I approached an OCC student (Joseph Vu) about the idea of using bicycles to transport food donations to a local food pantry, but we did not have a source of food other than small amounts of non-perishable food that Joseph and I could donate ourselves. We spoke with the OCC Food Services Manager, Thomas Selzer, about delivering excess food from the cafeteria, and he was immediately enthusiastic about the idea.

After we established this food source, we approached Share Our Selves (SOS), a local food pantry, to ask if they could use the kinds of perishable foods that would likely come from the cafeteria. Although we were unsure about how much food we would receive from the cafeteria, SOS was very happy to receive the donations. Both OCC Food Services and SOS were on board immediately. We just needed to ask.

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How has the program changed since it was first started. How did it grow from a handful of volunteers into an organization that continues to donate hundreds of pounds each month?

CARL: When we first approached the cafeteria and SOS, our expectations were very minimal. In fact, we planned to deliver food from the cafeteria once per month using a small bike trailer with an ice chest that could accommodate up to 50 pounds of food. Our first delivery from the cafeteria was an eye opener: there was a lot more excess food than we realized. We knew immediately that we would need a bigger bike trailer and larger coolers. Also, we knew that our "once a month" plan would quickly become once a week, and within the first six months we started delivering food twice per week.

As more students found out about the Food Riders through word of mouth, the club grew gradually. We received more attention when our student newspaper published an article about us.

Our growth has been slow but steady over the past seven years. Roy's contributions to the club with the Food Riders Handbook, conference participation and FRN involvement has really taken us to a whole new level!

Tell me about your team. Are there Food Riders that had never heard of food recovery until they found you?

ROY: Yes, there are many first-time Food Riders that knew nothing about Food Recovery-- the majority, actually. Some international students have been stunned and pleased to join us. The stunned part is because a few of them have similar systems in their native countries, but are surprised to find it in a developed, modern country.

Some students participate in one-three recoveries, or one  full semester, as part of their college experience, and move on to something else that also benefits their scholarship and transfer applications. Many will participate once weekly for two-three semesters before transferring to a university.

Stay tuned for part two!