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Above: Dave O’Connor ’14 and Nick Canessa ’14 hold a delivery headed for Mary
House.
Below: Businesses that become "food recovery certified" can display the logo.

Friar Food Rescue expands and evolves

A student-led group that takes food that would otherwise be discarded and delivers it to the hungry now operates six days a week and has established a formal relationship with a campus organization.

Friar Food Rescue, a student group that delivers excess food from Providence College dining halls and events to nearby soup kitchens and food banks, has grown and expanded from its original scope.

When it first started in 2012, students transported food once a week. Now, the group has grown to more than 60 members. About 25 student volunteers deliver food to different feeding sites six days a week. On Sundays, they stay and serve the food as well.

“We can’t really be effective if we’re not talking to the people we’re working with,” said Dave O’Connor ’14 (Franklin Square, N.Y.), who founded the group with Nick Canessa ’14 (Wall, N.J.).

Another student team helps restaurants become “Food Recovery Certified,” independently verifying that the businesses donate their surplus food to the hungry rather than tossing it. Read more about it at www.foodrecoverycertified.org.

Food rescue joins Feinstein

In addition, the food rescue — a chapter of the Food Recovery Network of groups on campuses across the country dedicated to keeping food out of landfills — has become a pilot program of the Feinstein Institute for Public Service, which works to promote sustainable social and economic change through community building. Through the new relationship, the food rescue will gain some guidance and stability.

“It fits the mission really well,” said Dr. Richard M. Battistoni, Feinstein’s director and professor of political science and public and community service studies.

The group can also be a lab for student leaders in the future. Battistoni said the Friar Food Rescue could serve as a service-learning component of a course, perhaps as early as the spring. Students could devote regular hours to delivering food and the exercise provides a great understanding of issues that fits into courses, he said.

“It addresses a need in the community, it’s a community-based experience, and there’s a student leadership aspect as well,” Battistoni said.

Cementing a relationship

The group’s growth and formal relationship with Feinstein comes as a relief to O’Connor and Canessa, who started the food rescue as juniors with help from Stuart Gerhardt, general manager for Sodexo, PC’s food service provider.

Friar Food Rescue uses a horizontal leadership structure that O’Connor, who majored in public and community service studies, learned about in a Community Organizing course with Battistoni. There is no president or hierarchy.

As a result, “we have a group of kids that know how to handle everything, and are going above and beyond,” Canessa said.

With such capable students, and the mentorship from Battistoni and Feinstein, “I’m more comfortable leaving them than I was starting,” he said. “It’s taken shape into something beyond what we ever expected.”

One of the volunteers, Elizabeth Longo ’17 (Bedford, N.Y.), joined because she said she was keenly aware of the food waste in PC’s cafeterias.

“I saw a good opportunity to do something small that can make a difference,” she said.

Here’s how it works:

  • Sodexo workers package the food in disposable aluminum trays, following safe food storage and handling procedures.
  • The students pick the food up in College vans and bring it to its destination.

Gerhardt said the students’ work is commendable. “The program is at the point where it’s part of our daily routine,” he said. “We are committed 100 percent.”

He added that his staff monitors food consumption and uses that data to predict demand on a daily basis, but weather and special events on campus can affect how students respond — and the amount of leftovers as a result.

PC’s support of the food rescue and its success could be a model for other institutions, O’Connor said.

“If the College is able to create a successful program, other schools can see the value of not just donating food, but adopting it as part of their identity,” he said.

— Liz F. Kay

 Read​ more about what's happening at the College at PC News.
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