Students Create ‘Food Rescue’ Program to Feed Hungry
Two Providence College juniors have started a program to transport food that normally would be discarded from campus dining halls to people who need it.
Since Dave O’Connor ’14 (Franklin Square, N.Y.) and Nick Canessa ’14 (Wall, N.J.) started the Friar Food Rescue this fall, they have delivered more than 1,000 pounds of prepared food from Raymond Dining Hall and Alumni Hall Food Court to Providence’s McAuley House, which serves meals on weekdays and one Saturday a month to its guests, who include the working poor from the surrounding neighborhood.
O’Connor said he remembered walking into Raymond Dining Hall near closing time and seeing a lot of food left over. “I knew I couldn’t just bring it all back to my room,” he said. “I’ve been eating leftovers my whole life. I’m aware that it can be saved.”
As a member of Student Congress during his sophomore year, he got to know Stuart Gerhardt, general manager for Sodexo, PC’s food service provider. O’Connor also met a student at Brown University who was starting a chapter of the Food Recovery Network, a group of student-led food donation groups on campuses across the country.
O’Connor, a public and community service studies major, worked with Canessa, a health policy management major and member of Student Congress, to develop a system with Gerhardt and to identify a site to receive the food.
Sodexo staff package the food from Raymond Hall in disposable aluminum trays on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All of Sodexo's management personnel and employees are trained in food safety procedures, Gerhardt said. As a result, they cool the food to the proper temperature for storage within the necessary time frame and date and label the trays for the shelter. The company also keeps a log of the food that is sent.
“We try to make it as simple as possible,” Gerhardt said.
The students pick it up in College vans on Friday mornings, drive about six minutes to deliver it to McAuley House, and carry it into the walk-in fridge in the kitchen.
Sodexo believes in food recovery projects, Gerhardt said. Staff had tried to start a similar program earlier but it didn’t work well. “We needed to get students involved,” he said. “We don’t have people who could deliver it.”
Canessa praised Sodexo for making the delivery system so straightforward. “They’ve really gone above and beyond to help us out,” he said. “I think when you realize how easy it is to help out a lot of people, I don’t know how you could really not do something like that.”
At McAuley House, many of the guests are homeless or working poor who come for a hot lunch served restaurant-style, said Donald P. Wolfe, the organization’s executive director.
“When feeding as many as 300 people a day at lunch, these donations are very helpful,” Wolfe said.
Sister Julie Tremblay, the kitchen manager of McAuley House, said the organization receives donations from several businesses in Providence, but these contributions from the College are key.
“This helps because it’s already prepared food,” Sister Tremblay said. The kitchen has a very small staff — the manager and the chef are the only paid employees — and they rely on crews of about 15 volunteers each day for meals.
“Every time we show up, she’s ecstatic,” O’Connor said. “They always thank us, but we always thank them for taking this food and making sure it goes to good use.”
Saved from disposal
O’Connor and Canessa decided to call the PC chapter “Friar Food Rescue” because they felt like they were saving the food from a terrible fate.
“I’ve eaten leftovers before. It shouldn’t just be tossed,” O’Connor said.
The College’s Dining Services staff balances its food supplies and production to minimize waste, Gerhardt said, but on some days they prepare more food than is eaten — menu items that turn out to be less popular, for example. “A lot of times that would get discarded,” he said.
Gerhardt said he also likes to sell prepackaged food, such as sandwiches in Alumni Hall Food Court, for just one day, even though the items are safe to eat for up to five days.
Warren Gray '75, assistant vice president for business services, gave credit to the students and staff at Sodexo. Similar food recovery ideas have been discussed in the past but they haven’t worked, he said, unlike the current partnership between students and staff.
“We now have an outlet for the extra food,” Gray said.
O’Connor and Canessa recently expanded their deliveries to Mary House, at St. Patrick’s Church on Smith Hill, and hope to add other sites. Two students, Asha Ahmed ’16 (Boston, Mass.) and Kara Komprathoum '16 (Winchendon, Mass.) will lead the delivery program when O’Connor and Canessa study abroad next semester.
Ahmed and Komprathoum, who are roommates, had been volunteering with Brown University’s Food Recovery Network before learning PC had started an organization of its own.
“I always saw food that got wasted” on campus, Ahmed said. That upset her, because as a native of Ethiopia, “I’ve always grown up seeing people without food.”
Members of PC's Stop Hunger student group also plan to volunteer to serve food at McAuley House that was delivered by the food rescue group, O'Connor said.
— Liz F. Kay
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