IUP students work to save food destined to be tossed
Roughly 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, which is about one-third of the amount produced for human consumption, but one student group at IUP is working hard to cut down on that.
Abby Mishler, a junior criminology major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is co-president of the university’s Food Recovery Network chapter, which was founded last spring. The chapter collects leftover food from Folger Hall, the campus’ main cafeteria-style dining hall, and donates it to Zion Lutheran Church’s food pantry.
“The people are so thankful whenever you hand out food at the pantry,” Mishler said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”
IUP is one of 210 college campuses with a chapter of the national Food Recovery Network, an organization that began in 2011 at the University of Maryland. Program fellow Brandon Denney, the group’s main contact within the national organization, said the recovery network’s goal is to “fight waste and feed people.”
“We work with student leaders all across America to engage in local restaurants and dining halls both on and off campus to recover food that would otherwise be thrown away,” Denney said. “Seeing them go from a fledgling chapter to one that’s fully official and doing all these really cool events and conducting regular recovery is just amazing to see.”
Denney said the chapter became official in October, meaning they had conducted two successful recoveries, tracked them and submitted the information to the national office.
After a phone call the night before to ensure the dining hall has leftover food to donate, Mishler said FRN members are up bright and early at 8 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning to portion out the food, weigh the bags and store them in the dining hall’s freezer. They’re normally able to take rice, meat, vegetables, soups and grains that were not in self-serve lines. Then, on the second and fourth Monday of each month, the club helps to hand the food out during normal pantry hours from 9 to 11 a.m.
So far this year, the group has recovered and donated 359.75 pounds. Last year, they donated 152 pounds for a total of 511.75 pounds of food that could have otherwise been thrown away.
“What really impresses me about IUP is the consistency of their recoveries, their dedication to their partner agencies and their connection with their dining hall,” Denney said. “In the future, after they graduate, if they can find people who are equally as dedicated as them, that would make me a very happy person.”
Kathy Gaylor, the food pantry volunteer who works closely with the student group, said the donations from the Food Recovery Network have been a “hit.”
“There are good number of people who may not have full cooking facilities, so occasionally they’ll have trouble with what we can give them,” she said. “This program provides prepared food, so it solves that problem. It’s already cooked, it’s already prepared, it usually just needs to be reheated.”
The pantry provides food for more than 130 families each month, up from the 12 they served when the pantry was founded 20 years ago, Gaylor said. Since a large issue the pantry faces is limited refrigeration and freezer storage, she said it’s convenient that the dining hall allows the students to leave the food in their freezer until the day of a pantry.
“It’s such a good statement about the students, which I love,” Gaylor said. “I think it’s great to see that they really are good people.”
Aside from making donations, which are always encouraged, community members can get involved with the pantry by volunteering to hand out food or carry heavy bags. Anyone with other ideas on how to help can call and leave a message at the church office.
The national organization is about to reach a total of 2 million pounds of recovered food. Mishler said she hopes to see other restaurants and food service organizations in the area get in on this opportunity to make use out of food that would otherwise be tossed in the trash. Denney echoed this hope for the future on a national level.
“If you know of a restaurant or place in Indiana that has a lot of excess food, let them know about us,” Mishler said.
FRN at IUP meets at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays in McElhaney Hall, Room G2. To get in touch with them, visit their Facebook page.
PHOTO: The program has recovered 511 pounds of food so far. (Submitted photo)