27,655 pounds of food, 50 volunteers, 1 massive recovery: How FRN made history at the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show

“I got to see, with my own eyes, what over 27,000 pounds of food waste actually is. No food waste statistic, article, picture, or story will ever be as impactful as standing next to the mountains of would-have-been-wasted food.” — Jack Steinmann, FRN Chapter President at San Francisco State University

Food Recovery Network (FRN) started 2018 by making history with our largest one-day food recovery to date: 27,655 pounds of food. Fifty volunteers recovered 68 pallets of products from the Specialty Food Association 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, which was donated to the Delancey Street Foundation, a nonprofit residential self-help organization.

Specialty Food Association (SFA), a membership-based trade association that represents specialty food retailers, entrepreneurs, and distributors, hosts a Fancy Food Show every summer in New York City and winter in San Francisco. During these events, SFA members have the opportunity to showcase their latest and greatest food products to buyers and competition alike. Buyers include those purchasing for markets, large and small, throughout the country. Thousands of vendors fill aisles with an array of food products from around the world including everything from flavored chocolates, artisanal cheeses and handmade pastas, to olive oils, coconut waters, and small batch salsas.

  The entrance into the Moscone Center, South Hall, as the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show is in full swing.

The entrance into the Moscone Center, South Hall, as the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show is in full swing.

FRN is proud to have verified both the Summer and Winter Fancy Food Shows through our Food Recovery Verified program. When FRN verifies an event, we ensure that surplus food is donated to a local nonprofit organization. Food Recovery Verification is a way for businesses and events to show — to their employees and customers — that they are taking positive steps to divert food waste from landfills. The Fancy Food Shows are paving the way for other events by recovering their food and gaining recognition for doing so by becoming Food Recovery Verified.

“Specialty Food Association is a leader in the food industry space. They've prioritized food recovery at their signature Fancy Food events,” said Annie Lobel, FRN’s Director of External Partnerships and Growth. “Our goal is for other influencers in the sector to join our fight to reduce unnecessary food waste.”

  FRN National’s 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show Recovery Organizers (Paloma Sisneros-Lobato, Michael Boyd, and Annie Lobel, in green shirts) with the Director of Freight Operations at The Freeman Company (Louis Travieso, center) ecstatic to see the amount of incredible food being redirected from the landfill

FRN National’s 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show Recovery Organizers (Paloma Sisneros-Lobato, Michael Boyd, and Annie Lobel, in green shirts) with the Director of Freight Operations at The Freeman Company (Louis Travieso, center) ecstatic to see the amount of incredible food being redirected from the landfill

On January 23, volunteers gathered at the Moscone Center, a conference center in downtown San Francisco that is so large that its two buildings are connected by a tunnel underneath Howard Street. Volunteers were trained by FRN national staff on how to do a recovery from a trade show. At four p.m., the Winter Fancy Food Show ended, and the recovery commenced. Among the organized chaos of the show being torn down, volunteers used rolling bins to scoot up and down aisles collecting food labeled “perishable” and “non-perishable” prioritizing perishable items to keep within food safety regulations. The event spanned across three massive halls. With good running shoes and lots of energy, volunteers navigated the aisles of their designated halls, some the size of a football field. After collecting donated food, the items were organized in consolidation zones, placed onto pallets and shrink wrapped. Every pallet that was wrapped inspired feelings of accomplishment among volunteers and staff because the incredible food was going to the Delancey Street Foundation.

The Delancey Street Foundation, a residential organization that supports individuals through job training and other reentry programs, was the primary partner agency and nonprofit recipient for this recovery; 27,655 pounds was donated to its culinary training program. Delancey supports individuals who are recovering from alcohol and/or substance abuse or those who are reintegrating into society after being incarcerated. Part of this support includes job programs that teach and employ individuals in truck driving, restaurant work, and other vocational occupations.

For the recovery, FRN collaborated with Delancey’s truck driving school to organize the food transportation. “What an absolute joy it was to be able to participate in the food recovery,” said Stephanie Muller, member of the Delancey Street Foundation leadership team. “The [FRN] team was quick, helpful, thoughtful and giving; what a rare combination.”

It was very rewarding to find a partner agency that could not only accept the entire food donation, but that contributed to the recovery’s success and was so gracious in the process. “We feed over 250 residents three meals a day and they are in heaven to be able to eat tasty, healthy, fresh food,” Stephanie said.

To organize and execute this recovery, FRN brought together individuals from across the FRN Bay Area community, which included dedicated students, alumni, and professionals.

  Recovered food stacked high on pallets on trade show floor awaiting delivery to recipient partner agency

Recovered food stacked high on pallets on trade show floor awaiting delivery to recipient partner agency

“The Bay Area is packed with people who want to be part of changing our community for the better, but [they] most often don't have the luxury of extra time to act on those goals,” said Jack Steinmann, chapter President at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Steinmann recruited volunteers for the Winter Fancy Food Show recovery from every student group he could think of, including sports teams, greek life, and of course, the SFSU FRN chapter. “I had to spread my search further and further throughout the Bay, which helped me connect with organizations and individuals I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to interact with.”

Makena Wong, co-founder of the Santa Clara University chapter and now alumna, was so dedicated to making this project a success that she brought along a group of colleagues from her company’s San Francisco office.

“The highlight of the event for me was seeing my co-workers experience food recovery for the first time. Many of them expressed their confusion, shock, and amazement as they slowly realized the volume of food we were saving. It was invigorating for me to see them start to get it – the injustice bothered them and motivated them to act.”

Evan Ponchick, one of the founding members of the flagship FRN chapter at the University of Maryland, now lives in San Francisco and was able to join the crew of volunteers. Nearly seven years ago, he volunteered at the first-ever FRN food recovery; it was truly momentous that he was able to partake in FRN’s largest-ever recovery in San Francisco this January.  

“It was incredibly meaningful and empowering to see current college students that are a part of Bay Area FRN chapters help make this recovery happen.” Evan reflected. “I am thrilled to see that the organization is at a point where it can grow and have even greater impact beyond college campuses!”

The food recovery movement is gaining momentum every day from the work that FRN is doing across the country. Students at more than 235 FRN chapters recover food from their campuses while Food Recovery Verified businesses build food recovery into their daily operations. By organizing a recovery from the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show, FRN helped this event set the precedent for similar events of this scale. Across the country, food recovery can —and should— be the norm in our schools, our businesses, and at our events. Pallet by pallet and pound by pound, it is possible to fight waste and feed people in every community.

  FRN Program Manager Hannah Cather and enthusiastic volunteers recovering from the show floor in the Moscone Center Esplanade

FRN Program Manager Hannah Cather and enthusiastic volunteers recovering from the show floor in the Moscone Center Esplanade


Thank you:

This recovery was monumental for FRN. It brought together so many important and passionate individuals including friends at Specialty Food Foundation, Freeman Co., Delancey, and of course, our many San Francisco and Bay Area chapters. We are extremely grateful for those who made this achievement possible, including:

Students and alumni from:

  • California State University, Fresno

  • San Francisco State University

  • Santa Clara University

  • University of California, Berkeley

  • University of California, Davis

  • University of California, San Diego

  • University of San Francisco

Friends from companies and organizations including:

  • Clif Bar & Company

  • Delancey Street Foundation

  • Dropbox

  • EPA

  • Freeman Co.

  • Google

  • Hampton Creek

  • Ideo

  • Malone Security

  • Specialty Food Association

  • ThoughtWorks

  • Woodard and Curran