UR students love to talk about food. When the subject of dining is broached, everyone seems to have an opinion – which dining hall is the best, how they hate the lines at Starbucks, and why they love Kosher Corner Brownies. But while students never seem to tire of analyzing their dining options, rarely do you hear a group of undergrads speculating on where all the food goes when their food suppliers shut down for the night. With the establishment of a new club focused on relocating the University’s potentially wasted food to local soup kitchens, however, what happens to all those leftovers might just find its way into dinnertime discussion.
The Food Recovery Network (FRN), a national organization that got its start at the University of Maryland in 2011, works to alleviate hunger and promote sustainability by rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted and donating it to the hungry. Since September of 2011, FRN chapters have been established at over 30 colleges across the country, boasting a cumulative total of 245,284 pounds of food donated, and as of this past semester, University of Rochester is contributing.
Cofounder of UR’s FRN, senior Sara Ribakove, first learned about FRN through social media and knew it was something that she wanted to bring to our campus. Joined by her friend, sophomore Michaela Cronin, Ribakove’s efforts have flourished. The group, which gained preliminary SA recognition last October, has already donated over 400 pounds of food to local Rochester soup kitchen St. Peter’s Kitchen.
“It’s incredible how much we have been able to recover and donate to our local shelter,” Cronin expressed in an interview. Ribakove agrees, noting the hundreds of meals FRN has saved for those facing food insecurity in the local community. So far, FRN has made five donation trips to St. Peter’s, which serves lunch to over 140 Rochester locals every weekday. “We selected this location with help from staff at Foodlink (regional food bank) who recognized their need and our ability to help. They have been extremely thankful and have provided us with many great volunteering opportunities,” Ribakove explained.
FRN has also found support from UR’s dining services who aid in the food recovery process by bagging and freezing leftovers. This makes the food donation process easier for FRN volunteers who weigh and create a log of the food on Wednesday nights before driving it to St. Peter’s on Thursday mornings. Ribakove noted that, when it comes to reducing waste, “U of R does their best not to waste and does compost as much as possible.” However, completely eliminating food waste was infeasible as dining services strives to maintain a consistent variety of options right up until closing – FRN provides a solution.
Thanks to the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, universities and other organizations are protected from liability when donating food to non-profit organizations. As university kitchens are required to pass certain standards, non-profit soup kitchens like St. Peter’s are able to accept FRN donations with the assurance that the food has been verified as safe. Best of all, the entire process is virtually free.
FRN, which currently consists of approximately 20 active members, collects food from both Douglass Dining Center and The Commons. The group hopes to expand their collections, however, as soon as they have the means. Ribakove is optimistic, “Our numbers are getting larger naturally because more and more people know about us and we continue to reach out to the campus,” but remains practical about the capabilities of the current group, “We also need time to stabilize before we try and take on more dining halls. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
But even with a limited number of volunteers, FRN has quite a bit to be proud of. On top of their food recovery efforts, the group has done work to address hunger in a variety of other ways. These include volunteering at Foodlink and local soup kitchens as well as cosponsoring a holiday food drive. This semester, the group is focusing on their first annual event that, according to Cronin, will “help spread awareness about hunger in our community and how important it is to reduce waste.”
Cronin couldn’t be happier about the success of FRN, “Founding FRN has been a great experience so far. It has gone so fast and we have gotten way more general interest than I think we ever expected. It is so wonderful to see how many other students on campus are interested in reducing food waste.”
Ribakove shares her friend’s enthusiasm, explaining that FRN has been a positive influence in both the community and on campus, “We are helping the campus to be more sustainable while supporting those in need in our community,” she said. “Additionally our members are becoming more educated on the need in our community and have found an outlet in which they can help. We hope to keep doing so for many years!”
Students interested in getting involved with the Food Recovery Network should join the FRN Facebook group or its Campus Club Connection webpage, attend a meeting (every other Monday at 6:00pm in Wilson Commons 122), or email Sara Ribakove at email@example.com.
Rudd is a member of the class of 2017.