MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now from connecting over music to connecting over food. In this case, connecting extra food, the stuff that would otherwise get thrown away, with hungry people. It's a movement commonly known as food recovery. and in Montgomery County, where food makes up 19 percent of all waste, officials are creating what they say is the first ever county-wide food recover program. Emily Berman has the story.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
Every weekday night at 8:30, the all-you-can-eat dining hall closes at the University of Maryland.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
And the food that's left over is packed up by student volunteers. There's cake, pasta, baked chicken, egg rolls, and a lot more, totaling 176 pounds of leftovers.
MR. BEN SIMON
We basically donate to existing 501 (c)(3) s, homeless shelters, soup kitchens that are already out there in place, to redistribute the food from there.
Ben Simon is the founder of the Food Recovery Network, which has chapters on 27 college campuses across the country. Simon started the project two years ago here, at the University of Maryland.
It was towards the end of the day and we saw really good pizza that looked like it was just about to get thrown away. And so we asked the dining manager, is this food really just about to get thrown into a trashcan? He said yes.
When Montgomery County councilmember Valerie Ervin found out what Simon and the Food Recovery Network had been doing, she saw the potential to take this idea countywide.
MS. VALERIE ERVIN
There's a tale of two Montgomery's. There is the very well-to-do community here in Montgomery County, and then there is a growing number of residents who are living paycheck to paycheck. And a lot of the poverty is hidden. That's the other thing. You don't just see it on the streets, but you know that it's occurring.
Ervin presented the issue to the County council, which voted unanimously to bring together all the people who could help solve this problem, from restaurant owners to catering companies, hotel managers, and food bank organizers. The group met consistently over the course of eight months to exchange ideas and come up with a set of recommendations. Jacki Coyle is the chair of the group. She's been running Shepard's Table, a soup kitchen in Silver Spring, for 10 years. More than three-quarters of the food served at Shepard's Table is donated from places like Safeway.
MS. JACKI COYLE
Giant, Whole Foods, Panera Bread…
But, not every non-profit gets donations, and not every business knows who to call or how to give away its unused food. So the first step was to create a map of who has extra food, and who needs it. For the places with excess, like hotels and restaurants, the group asked them, how can we make it easy for you to donate?
We invited a restaurant owner in and he said, what I need is a phone number. If you give me a phone number that I can call so I know I have 15 pieces that are leftover sitting in my building tonight and someone will come pick it up, that's what I need.
Plus, the potential donors needed reassurance that giving away food wouldn't create more headaches down the line.
They can donate food and not be afraid of being sued with the Good Samaritan law. They're not going to be held liable.
The county has designated $200,000 for food storage and a program coordinator to field calls from would-be donors. The Montgomery County Network would have a lot in common with the D.C. Central Kitchen, and similar efforts around the country. But, according to everyone involved, a program like this has never been attempted countywide. Jacki Coyle says once the program gets up and running in January, she's hoping others can benefit from donations, just like her organization.
That's my dream. Like, get the food out there. Don't let anything be wasted. And be a witness to the rest of the country that this is possible.
Just around the corner, in the kitchen of Shepard's Table, Keith White is prepping dinner for 150 people.
MR. KEITH WHITE
Where here we have some veggies for this evening. We have spinach and green beans to go with ham and cheese sandwiches this evening.
If there's any food leftover that can't be used, it's typically thrown away, but councilmember Valerie Ervin says she's planning to change that.
You know, it's not just about the food, it's about composting instead of throwing food into dumps. It all sort of fits in one big ball, all of these things that we're talking about. You can't pull one out without dealing with the other thing.
Montgomery County tested the waters this summer with a composting pilot program in Takoma Park, joining the ranks of Howard and Prince George's Counties, which are both also working on municipal composting. Making the most efficient use of our resources is the first step, Ervin says, to creating healthier families and stronger community connections.
If we're able to really tap this distribution network in a way that can go to scale, there's no telling where we can go with this thing. It could just keep growing.
From Damascus to Silver Spring to Poolesville and beyond. I'm Emily Berman.
Time for a break now, but when we get back, river rehab on the Anacostia.
MR. JIM FOSTER
What we've done is we've completely disconnected people from this river. And they don't come here. There's five and a half million people that live within 30 some miles of here or whatever. This place should be crazy.
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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