NORWALK, Conn. – Food waste and food insecurity are both major issues in Fairfield County, but the Norwalk-based Community Plates is addressing both issues by taking unused food and delivering it to the people who need it most.
Many restaurants and retail stores throw away food that is past its sell-by date, even though the food is still fresh and healthy to eat for days afterwards. Community Plates partners with these businesses to take that food and deliver it to food pantries and shelters around the county so it doesn’t go to waste.
“We’re saving in the range of 20,000 meals every week from ending up in the dumpster and instead onto the plates of somebody in need,” said Fairfield County Site Director Tom Hauser.
Community Plates has partnered with about 30 donors in the county, and delivers food to another 30 organizations that help feed the hungry. The organization has a network of about 300 volunteer food runners who pick up the food and get it where it needs to go. They make around 85 food runs per week.
Hauser said the volunteers are able to accomplish this with the use of technology. Jeff Schacher, who founded Community Plates in 2011 with Kevin Mullins, had started the software company WhenToManage, and developed an app for Community Plates volunteers called GoRescue. The app allows volunteers to log in and sign up for food runs that are scheduled in their area.
“It’s completely flexible. They can adopt a run, where they do the same day every week, or they can look at their schedule and see a time that their schedule allows,” Hauser said. By using this self-scheduling model for volunteers, he said it is very rare that they have a scheduled run that nobody is able to sign up for.
In Fairfield County, it is estimated that 100,000 people are food insecure. This means that while people may not necessarily be hungry every day, they aren’t always sure where their next meal is coming from. Hauser said that there is always a demand from food pantries and shelters for more food, and the Community Plates model allows them to deliver fresh, healthy food like produce, dairy and meats.
“There’s a big need. Folks who go to food pantries can get food, but they can’t always necessarily get food that’s healthy,” he said.
He said that the donors are happy to provide the food, and will often work to accommodate the organization. When signing up new donors, Hauser said it’s important to make sure that there will be enough volunteers available to pick up the food. He said that a recent spotlight on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on food waste did produce a bump in interest in the nonprofit, but they are always looking for more volunteers.
Community Plates launched in Norwalk, but has since expanded to New Haven, Columbus, Ohio, Albuquerque, NM and New Orleans.
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