Eight thousand miles stands between Johannesburg, South Africa and Mt. Holly, New Jersey, a distance equivalent to the diameter of Earth.
Each place has its own story. Johannesburg, a wealthy metropolis of seven million people, is known for its 19th century gold rush and economic power within the continent of Africa. Dissimilar, Mt. Holly is rich in history, going all the way back to the American Revolution, but far inferior when it comes to its economic prowess.
This story, however, begins in a jail cell. The Burlington County Detention Center to be exact, which serves as a way station for incarcerated inmates awaiting to re-enter society or enroute to prison.
Approximately nine years ago in the midst of winter a call came into Extended Hand Ministries (EHM) from the county sheriff’s department.
To take an inmate overnight until housing became available. EHM is a small church, set in the same locale as the county jail, Mt. Holly. Beds are hard to come by.
The inmate, Michael Gould, could not be further from home, Johannesburg, S. Africa.
Gould needed a place to stay and, for the night, EHM was the only available option, outside of sleeping on the streets. To be fully transparent, we never did learn why he was in jail - but on the surface it appears like it was a harmless crime.
Back to our story.
Michael would spend a day at EHM, as required by the county. Until that one day turned into two. Michael became acclimated and began to make himself helpful: cleaning up after meals, taking out the trash, washing dishes.
Then, two days turned into two months.
At this time, Michael developed a relationship with Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Davis, founder and then bishop of EHM.
Those two months would then turn into nine years.
Michael, till this day, still performs many of the menial tasks he did when he first arrived. There’s just one big difference: he’s in charge now. Michael oversees EHM’s non-profit operation and has been for quite some time.
Prior to Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Davis’ passing in 2012, her vision was for EHM to evolve into a full fledged social service agency.
"The thing that hurts me most - and it really drains me - is when a mother calls with children." -- Michael Gould
Capacity issues are what’s occupying Michael’s time these days, as it’s impossible to allow children in the shelter or soup kitchen. He also disclosed that they receive approximately three calls a week from mothers looking for food and shelter.
Still, Rev. Davis’ aspiration is not lost on Gould. With a big grin on his face, he pointed out the back window to a lot of grass directly behind the church. EHM is planning a capital campaign to construct a new, full-service agency. This would help meet the growing demand and provide a greater level of service to clients.
That makes a lot of sense. Now they need to find the money.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Davis would certainly approve of Michael’s plan. It would, after all, put her dream one step closer to becoming a reality.
As far as the question is concerned, that’s easy. New possibilities.
Hunger and food waste are intractable problems. Or are they?
In the United States today, we throw away 40 percent of all the food that is produced, which is equivalent to tossing $218 billion into the garbage each year. These figures are staggering when you consider that 49 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable and nutritious food.
Recently, I have grown close to one of these food insecure Americans; he is six years old. I was introduced to this young man by my daughter, who mentors him. Despite living in a neighboring city, Berkeley in Northern California, this six-year-old’s family lacks access to healthful food due to financial inability. Often, my daughter and I picked him up hungry. My eyes were open, if not a little teary. I yearned to help, but how?
Around this time, I received an issue of the RSF Quarterly that featured an article about DC Central Kitchen. The piece showcased DCCK founder Robert Egger as he uncovered the inefficiencies of our modern food system. A nightclub manager turned social entrepreneur, Robert witnessed thousands of pounds of food being thrown away each night. This was food that, as a volunteer for a food truck serving meals to the homeless and other people in need, he could have “recycled.”
Robert’s story inspired me to reach out to him. I strongly wanted to support organizations like DCCK but hoped to find one that addressed the challenges of hunger, food waste, and employment training in my area. Through Robert, I was introduced to Dana Frasz, founder and director of Food Shift.
A lifelong passion
Dana’s passion for food recovery is paramount. “I feel a range of emotions when I witness or hear about food waste,” she said to me during one of our many conversations. “There’s this deep knowing in my heart that food is sacred, and yet, in our society, food is treated as a throwaway item.”
While studying at Sarah Lawrence College, Dana started an effective all-volunteer food recovery group that—to her chagrin—fell apart once she graduated. This experience taught Dana a key lesson in organizational sustainability: volunteer groups are just that, volunteers. After her studies, Dana remained committed to her cause by attending various conferences and connecting with key thinkers such as Jonathan Bloom, writer of American Wasteland, and Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose 2011 report put the issue of food waste on the map.
Something that’s impressed me about Dana in the time that I’ve known her is her unbroken focus on creating replicable models. She is dissatisfied with single-minded approaches, choosing instead to consider collaborative and systemic solutions.
In 2011, while attending a Bay Area sustainable food conference, it dawned on Dana that food waste was missing from the larger food system conversation. “Over the course of three days and dozens and dozens of speakers, there was not one person talking about food waste, and it drove me crazy,” said Frasz.
She needed to take action. As she had done at countless events before, Dana investigated where the huge smorgasbord left over from the conference would be going that evening. Sure enough, it was not to hungry stomachs. Dissatisfied, Dana found the densest food item she could—chicken—and carried 40 pounds of it that night to the streets of San Francisco.
Ecosystem of solutions
Shortly after this experience, Dana founded Food Shift, an idea incubator, think tank, and social enterprise based in Oakland, California. The organization’s initial focus was increasing awareness and education for an issue that had largely existed in the shadows. In 2014, Food Shift publicized a series of ads on Bay Area public transit highlighting connections between food waste and water usage; at that time, California had been under pressure from a severe drought that had crippled the state for three years.
Food Shift then developed a food recovery program in partnership with Stopwaste.org and the Oakland Unified School District. The “Food for Kids” program collected over 14,000 pounds of surplus food from 13 Oakland school cafeterias and redistributed it to students and their families and community organizations. A guide to replicate the model at other schools will be released in early 2017.
Santa Clara study
In early 2015, Santa Clara County hired Food Shift to do an assessment of where and why food is being wasted in the region. Food Shift staff members spoke with dozens of food businesses, recovery groups, and social service agencies for their research. The findings uncovered two major challenges in the sector that limited impact: capacity and infrastructure. Food assistance groups were running on shoestring budgets—unable to afford refrigeration, storage, vehicles, or staff—while undoubtedly performing a service to the community.
Of the many key findings from the Santa Clara project, three stand out: 1) there is a lot more surplus food available, 2) one in four people in Santa Clara County are food insecure, and 3) we need investment in food-recovery infrastructure.
In addition to these realities, we must recognize that the answer goes beyond just supplying food to the needy. As Frasz has commented, “food alone won’t solve hunger. If we truly care about feeding people, we need to do more than just give out food. That’s why the models we’re looking to create involved workforce development, job training, and employment in food recovery, specifically for the people who need the jobs the most.”
Showing how it’s done
From this core belief and in response to the reality that one in five fruits and vegetables grown do not fit the strict cosmetic standards of grocery stores and are discarded, Food Shift launched Alameda Kitchen in June 2016. The kitchen uses surplus or “ugly produce” and turns it into highly nutritious soups and other products. An alternative to the traditional charity model, Alameda Kitchen aims to support ongoing operations and program growth through the sale of food products it produces. Imperfect Produce, an RSF client, fuels the kitchen with generous food donations and advisory support.
Alameda Kitchen is housed at Alameda Point Collaborative, a housing community for previously homeless individuals—the majority of them are unemployed and living in poverty. The kitchen has committed to hiring residents of the collaborative.
In its first class this summer, the Alameda Kitchen had a significant impact on the lives of program participants. In addition to gained culinary expertise, participants also experienced weight loss, monetary savings, improved diets for their children, and increased self-confidence. And this is just the beginning.
“The Alameda Kitchen is going to spark a shift towards a more sustainable food ecosystem in the Bay Area,” said Frasz. “By recovering surplus food, expanding processing infrastructure, and creating effective outreach to communities in need, we will feed more people and waste less food.”
To reach this goal, Food Shift needs support to purchase critical transportation and refrigeration equipment that expands its ability to store and deliver healthful food products safely.
So you see, hunger and food waste are not intractable problems. They’re ones ripe for solving.
- By Suzanne Lane - Republished with permission by RSF Social Finance
It is Christmas Eve and it seems like Thanksgiving was yesterday. Our “go-go-go” world seems to pick up the pace to breakneck speed this time of year. All too often we can get caught up in the “busy-ness” of life and become blind to the needs of our neighbors during the time of year when we are supposed to focus less on ourselves and more on others.
This past Thanksgiving, members of NorthBound, a comeback community, embarked on their first community event. NorthBound sponsored a community-wide, home-cooked meal held at the East Bangor United Methodist Church. The community meal was open to anyone who was homeless, family-less, friend-less, in recovery from addiction, and anyone who wanted to share some time with strangers over a meal. During the course of the three-hour meal, approximately 60 people graced us with their presence and shared conversation over a hot meal. But much more than a meal was shared.
So many memories are created over a meal. Food is such an integral part of who we are. It is cultural. Perhaps that is why kitchens seem to be the one room in the home where families congregate to reconnect, regale and revive. Kitchens are the place where we pour our hearts and souls into meals to be shared with the ones we love. Thanksgiving and Christmas have become holidays where meals create the backdrop for family and friends. We catch up with relatives, we recall family stories and relive traditions.
As with any event, it takes many people and no small amount of time and effort to put it all together. NorthBound's community meal was no exception. Rev. Dave and the people of East Bangor UMC graciously allowed us the use of their kitchen and community room. Jennifer and “La La” worked tirelessly at gathering community support and cooking. Kate, Gerry and I helped plan the menu, garner food donations and also cooked. Dozens of friends cooked desserts, rolls and side dishes for the meal. We all took turns serving up deliciousness and love to everyone who attended. In the end, NorthBound prepared over 100 pounds of turkey, 25 pounds of carrots, trays of green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing and lots of corn pudding.
The takeaway from all of this? Food is the gateway through which connections are made. Through this meal, we made some headway in making life a little bit better for our neighbors. Through this meal, we developed a better understanding of what they mean when they say “it is better to give than to receive.” All of us at NorthBound became regrounded in what is truly important in life – not politics or opinions – but service and caring. By giving of our time and efforts to others we regain a toe-hold on the bedrock of our existence – loving others.