Food Recovery Network chapter donates thousands of pounds of campus food

Every day dozens of students recover uneaten food from dining halls on Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF campuses to give to shelters in the community.

With seven dining halls and more than 17,000 meals served every day, not all of the food made at Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is eaten.

Well, three friends and seniors at SUNY-ESF decided to do something about all this wasted food. Michelle Blankas, Katja Fiertz, and Zach Spangler started a Food Recovery Network chapter on Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF campuses.

Photo: Emily De Vito
Food Recover Network volunteers spend a Friday night recovering food from Graham Dining Hall.

“Michelle came to me with the idea in late August, early September and said hey, there’s a bunch of food waste happening and there’s people that are hungry so let’s fix that,” said Spangler, a chemistry senior at SUNY-ESF. “She noticed The Food Recovery Network on Facebook and we thought lets join this, they have a bunch of support set-up and can help us get it going.”

The national Food Recovery Network was started at the University of Maryland College Park campus in 2011. Three students realized that leftover dining hall food was just sitting in landfills when 1 in 8 people in the D.C. area were struggling with hunger. The students at Maryland got student groups to volunteer one night a week and worked with Dining Services to start recovering food. The network expanded to other U.S. college campuses that were also having difficulty implementing a program that would put all this uneaten food to use. As of this spring, The Food Recovery Network has chapters at more than 125 colleges in 31 states and has recovered nearly 700,000 pounds of food.

Spangler said implementing the Food Recovery Network in Syracuse wasn’t a problem, but actually figuring out where the food would go was the bigger challenge.

“With SU their dining halls close at 7:30 p.m. or later, so we need somewhere to be open to receive the food at that hour,” Spangler said.

The Food Recovery Network (FRN) at Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF currently donates the food to four different shelters in the Syracuse area and does five recoveries a week. Two of the shelters include the DePalmer House, which provides transitional housing for homeless people, and the Dorothy Day House, a shelter for homeless or at-risk women and their children. After a dining hall closes, FRN volunteers take the uneaten food on trays to a car, drive to a shelter and drop off the food, and then take the trays back to the dining hall. Finding volunteers for these recoveries hasn’t been any trouble for the chapter.

“More people are whining about there not being enough slots to volunteer, so we need to get more slots,” said Shewa Shwani, president of FRN and a biotechnology junior at SUNY-ESF.

Currently the chapter has more than 61 volunteers and has recovered more than 5,000 pounds of food since October. FRN usually gets about 70 pounds of food per recovery.

Shwani said as a commuter student, she sees firsthand how important it is that this food doesn’t go to waste.

“I drive here every day, I see homeless people on the side of the road that need help," Shwani said. "So why not help our community it just feels good to help another person in need."

Not only does it make the volunteers feel good, but it also helps out these community shelters in a big way.

“All of the agencies are either donations or grant funded, for every piece of food we bring them it is food they don’t have to buy,” Spangler said. “It’s also better food than they have the staff, time, or money to make, so their residents are very excited about that.”

Although the three founders will be graduating at the end of this school year, Spangler said he is excited to see the chapter continue to grow and hopes the organization will soon become an official club at Syracuse University. Shwani said they are also looking to get more clubs, fraternities, and sororities involved with volunteering.

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