Food rescue service to aid MetroWest pantries
By Jim Haddadin
October 14, 2015
MetroWest Daily News
NATICK – For Joanne Barry, executive director of A Place to Turn in Natick, it’s heartbreaking to imagine how much fresh food gets tossed into the garbage each day.
The food pantry, which serves approximately 11,000 people per year, struggles to keep fresh produce on its shelves. While it receives grant money to buy fruits and vegetables, and also collects regular donations from Roche Bros. supermarket, keeping healthy food in stock puts a strain on the pantry’s money and manpower.
“It’s still not enough,” Barry said Wednesday, “and knowing that there’s so much food out there that’s being thrown out – and nutritious food, too – it’s just unfortunate.”
A new partnership announced this month aims to tackle the problem by helping pantries across MetroWest put more of the food being discarded by grocery stores, farms and other businesses in the region to use.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit based in Brookline, recently received a three-year grant to expand its food recovery service into MetroWest. The group will receive nearly $275,000 to collect perishable goods that would otherwise be discarded and deliver them to pantries and shelters in the area.
The MetroWest Health Foundation partnered with the Sudbury Foundation, the Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation and the Foundation for MetroWest to fund the initiative, which is expected to launch early next year.
Martin Cohen, president of the MetroWest Health Foundation, said after surveying local pantries regarding their needs, the group learned many have a dependable supply of canned goods, but face difficulty getting fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
While some already collect food from grocery stores, Cohen said Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ proven food rescue model can enhance their efforts.
“When we looked at current efforts, they were sort of not well-organized,” Cohen said, “so we thought this was a great opportunity to really bring their talent, which is how to quickly and efficiently harvest that food … into the hands of the food pantries and shelters.”
Launched five years ago, Lovin’ Spoonfuls operates a fleet of five refrigerated trucks, which collect food from grocery stores, produce wholesalers, farms and farmers markets throughout Greater Boston.
Some of the donations come from excess orders of fruit and vegetables. Other times, the food is destined for the trash because it is blemished, or approaching its sell-by date.
Drivers inspect the food to ensure it’s safe to eat, then distribute it the same day to more than 80 non-profits, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and senior centers.
“At the end of every day, our trucks are empty,” said Lauren Palumbo, Lovin’ Spoonful’s chief operating officer.
The organization currently rescues more than 30,000 pounds of food per week. Whole Foods, Hannaford and Trader Joe’s are among its largest partners.
“There’s nothing wrong with the products,” Palumbo said, “and right now, this country is wasting 40 percent of its food, and a huge chunk of that is at the retail level, and that’s really where we focus.”
Lovin’ Spoonfuls is coordinating with about a dozen MetroWest agencies as it plans its expansion into the region. By taking over food collections, Palumbo said the group hopes to free up pantry volunteers for other work, and also establish a more consistent schedule. Doing so could also boost donations by making grocery stores in the area more attuned to saving perishable food from the trash, she said.
“It’s sort of a ripple effect,” Palumbo said. “We want to get started by working with some of the relationships that already exist in MetroWest between agencies and the vendors they’re collecting from.”
In Natick, A Place to Turn recently installed a commercial freezer and refrigerator in anticipation of its new partnership, tapping a grant from the Greater Boston Food Bank to buy the equipment.
“Lovin’ Spoonfuls has such a great reputation,” Barry said. “It’s such a great model. There’s so much food waste, and the fact they’re going to come into this area and help us, we’re so appreciative.”
The development comes as the food pantry strives to increase the amount of healthy food it provides to clients. It recently launched a new push to align its food offerings with recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While those recommendations place a greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables, families living on a budget often can’t afford healthy food, Barry said. Instead, they opt for dried grains and cheap, higher-calorie foods when they visit the grocery store, hoping to stretch their income.
“We are really trying to improve the nutritious choices in the pantry,” Barry said. “We want to make sure that people come in and are able to choose healthy food so they can cook healthy meals for their family.”
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