Students Spark a Food Recovery Movement on Campus

January 3, 2013

Maryland college students are changing the way dining halls do business, to help feed families in need.

Two years ago, the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) was like most colleges in America in that it threw away all of the dining hall food that was prepared but not sold. Today, UMD is an example of how small changes can lead to big solutions—and so are 10 other colleges across the country.

This is the story of how my friends and I founded the Food Recovery Network (FRN) and ignited a movement on college campuses to fight waste and feed people.

Seeing Opportunity in the Trash

It was a pile of garbage. But my buddies and I saw something else as we watched dining services workers empty unsold food into bins and trashcans. We saw hundreds of pounds of delicious pasta, fish, salad, fresh fruit, chicken, ribs and, yes, crabcakes. (We're in Maryland, after all.)

We also saw the faces of our hungry neighbors—most of them working but still poor—standing in lines that wrap around street corners, just to get a meal.

And we saw a very simple solution to two complex social issues: hunger and food waste.

As is true of many organizations that work with food, at first, UMD’s Dining Services was resistant to changing the way they did things and wary of the possible additional costs. To them, the act of throwing out leftovers was just part of doing business. Every food service institution naturally generates some waste—and as my friends and I quickly learned, the trashcan is the default method of disposal for 97 percent of food waste in America.

We persisted in thinking that things could be done differently. We eventually persuaded Dining Services to give our idea a try, and we started coming in one night a week to collect the leftovers.

Each year, 70 billion pounds of food is wasted, while one in four American children are at risk of hunger.

A lot of people ask us if it's safe to take un-used food from a dining hall and donate it to feed hungry families. The short answer is yes, it can absolutely be done safely. FRN provides basic training for volunteers in proper food handling. And we typically deliver the food from the dining halls' steam table or refrigeration to the receiving organization's refrigeration in less than one hour; The government mandates we do it in less than two hours.

Some chapters freeze the food on site and then deliver it the next day. There are different models, but we're always able to preserve the integrity and safety of the food.

Nationally, we're talking about a lot of food. Our market research has found that 75 percent of America’s 3,000 colleges don’t have any food recovery program in place, resulting with the waste of at least 22 million edible pounds of food each year.  But wasting food on college campuses is just the tip of the iceberg. Every year, 70 billion pounds of food goes to waste in America, while one in four American children are at risk of hunger.

In only the first few recoveries, the FRN was able to donate about 150 to 200 meals per night from the campus to local food banks and homeless shelters. And that was just the beginning.

FRNFrom a Small Idea to a Campus Phenomenon

It didn’t take long before other students and organizations wanted to help FRN with its mission. As new campus organizations joined, the small group grew into a network of 11 different student groups – service and social justice groups, religious groups, and even a military group – that have the responsibility of collecting food on different nights from one of the many dining halls on campus.

This model, which ensures that various student organization groups take ownership of their own meal redistribution nights, helped FRN become one of UMD’s largest on-campus service projects. Within its first year, the simple idea mushroomed on campus and led to the donation of about 30,000 meals. 

The benefits are two-fold: Not only does this surplus food feed those in need, but in saving it from winding up in landfills, we're reducing a top emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas which the EPA estimates to be 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide toward climate change.

Expanding the Collaboration

As FRN's campus-wide success grew, other campuses got wind of our idea and helped the organization grow in a new direction.

Two major developments helped shape that growth.

First, in January 2011, like-minded students at Brown University officially formed a second FRN chapter on campus. In its first week of donations, FRN at Brown redistributed more than 200 pounds of food to organizations in Rhode Island.

Second, the two FRN chapters at UMD and Brown joined forces with already existing food recovery programs at UC Berkeley, Bare Abundance, and Pomona College, Food Rescue at Pomona College. The four organizations joined forces and co-founded the national Food Recovery Network movement, with a leadership team made of all-star leaders from each of the four chapters.

Just over a year after we started, Food Recovery Network is now at 11 different college campuses across the nation. We’ve donated over 90,000 pounds of food so far to Americans, valued at around $500,000. All this with no staff budget, just a bunch of college kids running on passion. Our new chapter team is also coaching students at about 20 other colleges to start new chapters.

We've expanded the mission of FRN to recover food from campus dining halls, sports games, and surrounding communities, and donate it to those in need.

In April, FRN won the $5,000 grand prize at UMD’s Kevin Bacon Do Good Challenge and, in July, we won the $15,000 national grand prize in the Banking on Youth Competition. This funding and publicity has been a tremendous catalyst for FRN’s growth.

Join the Movement!

Watch this video to learn more the FRN:

Learn Start an FRN chapter in your school or community: It is a no-brainer that food recovery is the right option and the national FRN team is on mission to empower students across the nation to start this rewarding program on their own campuses. For students who are interested in starting a new chapter, we make it as easy as possible with our New Chapter Toolkit. I hope you can join the food recovery movement! There is no better time to start than today.

Help support FRN: We recently received our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and are about one-quarter of the way to our goal of fundraising $200,000 by May 2013 for our first full-time staff. (If you can help us out with a $10 donation, donate here!).

To learn more, email the student leaders at info@foodrecoverynetwork.org or visit www.foodrecoverynetwork.org.


Ben Simon is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, and founder and executive director of the Food Recovery Network. You can reach Ben by leaving a comment below, or emailing him at ben.simon@foodrecoverynetwork.org.

Ben Simon
4

Comments

Congratulations on such a Beautiful endeavor you embarked on. Highly
Appreciated by Many I&;m sure. Good Luck in the future 2013 !!! :)

MY heart overflows as I see the insight, goodness of youth, THESE ARE OUR HEROES & HEROINES- FULLY EDUCATED MIND ,HEART, BODY, SOUL__THIS IS WHAT EDUCATION & GOOD HOME TRAINING ARE MEANT TO PRODUCE. WHEN THIS GROUP OF STUDENTS GRADUATE<THESE ARE THE FUTURE LEADERS OF OUR COUNTRY, & OF THE WORLD. THERE WILL BE NO BICKERING IN CONGRESS__THERE WILL BE WOMEN & MEN READY TO LISTEN & WORK WITH CONSTITUENTS>
WE WILL HAVE THE GOVERNMENT OUR FOUNDERS ENVISIONED !!! NO WASTED TIME ON LOBBYIEST, OR FILLING THEIR OWN POCKETS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TAXPAYERS OR OTHER
CORRUPTION WE SEE IN CONGRESS TODAY. YES,THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE OF INTRGRITY IN CONGRESS BUT ALL ARE NOT !!! THIS IS WHAT MAKES IT SO HARD FOR GOOD GOVERNMENT
TO DO THEIR WORK HONESTLY & COMPASSIONATELY FOR THE COMMON GOOD OF ALL!!! MY HEART REJOICES IN THESE YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WILL WORK SO ALL USA CITIZENS MAY ONE DAY ENJOY LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PERSUIT OF HAPPINESS THAT IS DENIED TO MANY BECAUSE OF THE GREED OF MANY WHO ONLY THINK OF THEMSELVES !!!WE NEED LEADERS
WHO THINK OF THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS AND WORK FOR THE GOOD OF ALL. CHEERS & BLESSINGS FOR THESE YOUNG PEOPLE!!! GOD STRENGTHEN & HELP THEM TO UNSELFISHLY CONTINUE USING THEIR GIFTS FOR THE GOOD OF ALL ESP> THOSE IN NEED__THAT IS HOW GOD EXPECTS US TO LIVE HERE & FOREVER WITH GOD IN HEAVEN>.CHEERS & BLESSINGS !!!

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