My name is Rachel Cohen and I’m a junior Energy and Environmental Policy major at the University of Delaware. At UD, I’m involved in the Blue Hen Leadership Program, a four tiered leadership program aiming to build students’ leadership skills and encourage opportunities to engage in community service. It was through BHLP that I was able to get to know junior Public Health major Jaime Renman when she led a group of my peers and myself on a spring break trip to Baltimore, Maryland. The trip was focused on urban hunger and revitalization. We spent the week volunteering our time preparing urban farms for growth, working with nonprofits that aimed to rejuvenate the city, and walking the streets of inner city Baltimore giving brown-bagged lunches to homeless folks. Getting to know Jaime during this trip exposed her dedication to service and her passion for public health. These traits continue to guide her as she leads the University of Delaware chapter of the Food Recovery Network.
Jaime reflects on her high school “fruit ninja” job at her local Acme, where she spent hours chopping fruits and vegetables. She remarks on the guilt she felt about the sizable amount of viable produce that she had to throw away. Not only were the chopping techniques inherently wasteful, but she was also told to throw away bruised and imperfect food. This experience sparked an energy in Jaime which catalyzed her passion for fighting food waste. She went on her first alternative spring break trip focused on urban hunger during her freshman year. As a result, Jaime became aware of health disparities surrounding food waste, expressing, “Wow… there are people who live in food deserts and can’t even access healthy food, and yet I’m surrounded by these huge supermarkets where I can buy anything I want and usually waste a lot.” The trip opened Jaime’s eyes to her passion about doing service and helped her identify her values. She returned to campus with a refreshing attitude: “I was like, okay! How do I continue this?”
Lucky for Jaime, the answer sort of fell into her lap. Her resident assistant from freshman year was the vice president and a founding member of FRN at UD, and all but two of the executive board members were set to graduate at the end of the year. Jaime went on a recovery and said to herself, “I don’t really know a lot about FRN, but it seems like a cool initiative and a leadership position to continue service about food insecurity which I’m passionate about.” She became the president her sophomore year and describes the process of taking on the position as being initially quite difficult. There wasn’t a smooth transition in leadership, and Jaime didn’t know where to begin with an e-board that was mostly new to food recovery and her own minimal knowledge about leading a group.
She says she “had to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” She forged new relationships and took over communication with UD Dining that had been halted by the e-board members who graduated before her. “I put on my best professional manner and put my passion into it and drive and commitment. That’s what I could give.” She observed how only a portion of the past e-board members were really present so she emphasized that dedication from the newe-board would support the club to grow sustainably. Jaime and her e-board team became more educated about the causes, details, and effects of food waste and began utilizing asset-based approaches that hone the skills of the individual members. “And it ended up working out,” she says with a wide smile on her face. “Empowering other students and inspiring them to become more aware or to get involved with FRN has been the most rewarding.”
FRN at UD currently recovers food from one of three dining halls on campus. Twice a week, an e-board member and 2 volunteers load the already packaged, frozen food into soft coolers for a representative from the Food Bank of Delaware to pick up. One of the students submits the pounds of food recovered and other data to FRN National.
Although they are recovering less food than in past semesters, the UD chapter maintains relationships with other hunger-fighting nonprofits by informing them that the donations will be back once they recruit more volunteers and have the capacity to recover more frequently. The FRN Chapter held a food drive in Fall 2017 and surpassed their goal by accumulating 205 pounds of non perishables. In order to say, “we still care about you and we still want to donate to you” as Jaime eagerly puts it, they delivered all the food they recovered from the drive to these nonprofits.
The UD chapter is working on reaching out to local restaurants to recover more food. Jaime and Jaclyn Romano, the VP of Restaurant Donations, have begun fostering relationships to start recovering food from local restaurants in the near future. Jaclyn is the point of contact between FRN and local restaurants, seeking to foster relationships to increase food donations. She says that her biggest challenge with the position was “the fear of being brushed off by restaurants” due to anxiety that she would sound insecure and awkward when going to speak to restaurant managers. “Jaime,” Jaclyn says, “was my biggest motivator. I was losing motivation, and Jaime pushed me. We went together to talk to managers of restaurants.” Jaclyn’s perspective transformed. “I realized how awesome of an idea people think FRN is. Every manager I spoke to was so passionate for the idea and didn’t hesitate to want to be involved.” Jaclyn can’t wait to see the club initiating more recoveries in Spring 2018.
In efforts to increase membership, the e-board members first began speaking to classrooms about FRN, the mission, and how to join the movement. Their member turnout at meetings significantly increased as a result. Jaclyn says their meetings began with just the e-board, “to now having a genuine group of people that are really interested and want to be involved.” They’ve formed committees, made up of a few students led by a member of the e-board, who work to find more donation sources, more hunger-fighting nonprofits to receive food, and other ways to promote food waste education. Other techniques to increase awareness and membership include handing out facts about food waste with a piece of candy in the student centers and asking food waste trivia questions to passersby to engage the community in a quick and fun way. Jaime has even had dreams about the future success of the UD FRN chapter. “I think there are really good things coming. I have to stay motivated and we have to keep motivating each other and keep building the movement,” she says.
On a personal level, “FRN definitely built my leadership skills in terms of learning how to work on a team and how I work in a team,” says Jaime. Additionally, the position has improved her communication, professionalism, and courage. She has realized that it doesn’t hurt to go out there and seek food donations, because “the worst people can say is ‘no’.” Leading this transformative process has shown Jaime that she has the power to impact positive change. Her experience in FRN “shows that this generation cares a lot and that we’re on a positive trajectory.”