Organizers of a “food rescue” initiative between Oberlin College and Oberlin Community Services food pantry hope to expand the effort.
They want to get more area restaurants, supermarkets, and other organizations to donate excess food while it remains edible. Earlier this month, the college began sending about 60 pounds of excess food from its four main dining halls — which serve about 1,800 people daily — to the pantry twice per week. The pantry serves about 200 people in need per week.
The collaboration took about three years to occur, said Eric Pecherkiewicz, a nutritionist for Bon Appetit, the college’s food provider.
Organizers had to resolve liability concerns college attorneys had in the event that someone was sickened by donated food. Pecherkiewicz credited Bon Appetit and Michele Gross, the college’s director of dining services, for their perseverance.
“It seemed like it would never (begin) for a while,” he told about 40 community leaders and food providers at an OCS luncheon Nov. 16. “But now it’s definitely happening.”
Besides feeding hungry people, the effort is designed to reduce food waste, an enormous national and international problem.
Food waste accounts for about 31 percent — 133 billion pounds — of U.S. food production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Worldwide, about 32 percent of food is wasted annually, according to the World Resources Institute, a global research organization.
In the U.S., much of the waste is due to edible but discolored or misshapen food being discarded by restaurants or supermarkets. Other causes are inaccurate food expiration dates, overproduction, and overstocking.
“There are millions of families that go hungry in this incredibly wealth country of ours which is totally absurd,” said Hannah Rosenberg, OCS volunteer coordinator. “That food could be used to feed those families, but instead it’s thrown out.”
Much of wasted food also ends up in landfills, creating methane that exacerbates climate change. Organic waste is the second biggest component of landfills, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
“It has huge implications for poverty, for hunger, and for environmental issues we face and none of that is necessary at all,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg said volunteers are being recruited for a “food hub” to pick up food at the college dining halls and restaurants such as Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, and Subway before it spoils. Organizers also hope to get contributions from farmers markets and possibly the Oberlin Schools.
And a $120,000 federal taxpayer grant from the USDA is being applied for to purchase a freezer and containers to store food year round.
Alan Mitchell, OCS food coordinator, said the college partnership is a model for what the pantry wants to do.
“We want to be able to make sure we’re providing that same opportunity to other responsible businesses and citizens so we can end hunger in our community,” he said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.