Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Lifted by leftovers
Every week, volunteers with Feed Spokane round up food from area restaurants that is used to help feed the hungry
Maurice Smith, left, the executive director of Feed Spokane, gets help from Davenport Hotel banquet chef Bryan Franz as he picks up leftover food from a recent weekend. The Spokesman-Review (Christopher Anderson The Spokesman-Review )
Virginia De Leon
July 16, 2008
Leftovers from several Spokane restaurants are now helping feed thousands of hungry people in Spokane.
The homeless at New Hope Ranch sometimes eat roast beef sandwiches and breaded chicken fillets from Arby's. At least once a month, women in transition at Hope House gets burritos from GoGo Burrito in north Spokane. And the poor who find refuge at Truth Ministries and other shelters often enjoy the leftover prime rib, salmon and other delicious offerings donated by the banquet kitchen at the Davenport Hotel.
Every week, volunteers with Feed Spokane collect an average of 1,000 pounds of food from area restaurants and deliver it to meal sites and shelters.
"We are working to eliminate waste and hunger," said Maurice Smith, the nonprofit's executive director. "Much of the food that we are now receiving is in perfectly good condition but sometimes the lack of coordination has led people to throw it away."
On a recent morning, Smith drove to two Arby's restaurants in Spokane and collected nearly 100 pounds of frozen prepared food - 50 roast beef sandwiches, about 40 pounds of breaded chicken fillets and another 40 pounds of chicken nuggets.
"When I see this, I think protein," said Smith. "We're trying to move from a carbohydrate-starch diet for people in need to a protein diet to help improve their overall health. Protein and vegetables are the two holy grails of food rescue."
Instead of tossing leftovers into the dumpsters, 22 restaurants and catering facilities in Spokane now freeze their unserved meals and save them for Feed Spokane. Almost every day, Smith drives all over town to "rescue" the food and bring them to House of Charity, Shalom Ministries and about two dozen other places where the poor can eat a free meal.
Although the Davenport staff works hard to minimize waste, leftovers are often inevitable after weddings, banquets and other events, said Bryan Franz, executive chef of the hotel's banquet facility.
"Part of hospitality is never running short," he explained.
So his staff usually errs on having too much instead of too little. Depending on the menu, Franz estimates that the average person eats almost a pound of food during a meal. For a large "full-blown" buffet that may include four proteins, three starches and a dozen different desserts, individuals consume close to 1 1/4 pounds. Some guests, however, will eat less than the estimated average so there's often some leftovers in the kitchen. After a party, that food is then stored in the freezer until it's picked up by Feed Spokane.
According to Smith, the Davenport's banquet facility has donated close to a ton of food each month. "It has been impressive," he said. "The food is such high quality - we're talking things like chicken breasts, 30 pounds of prime rib roast the week after Mother's Day, salmon, seafood, a lot of beef"
After Cinco de Mayo, for instance, the Davenport gave Feed Spokane an abundance of shredded chicken machaca, which was then used to make sandwiches for the poor. The nonprofit also receives a regular supply of coffee cakes and other pastries leftover from breakfast. Whatever's left on the carving station - turkey, pork loin, ham - is also donated to Feed Spokane.
Since the hotel's banquet menu contains more than 300 items, the people at Feed Spokane's meal sites also benefit from the variety.
"All the food we make for our clients is the highest quality," said Franz, who also cooks meals for the hotel's employee cafeteria using some of the leftover food.
Working with Feed Spokane has been a good experience for him and others at the Davenport. He hopes to spend some time visiting with the people at the meal sites where leftovers from the hotel kitchen are served.
Feed Spokane started three years ago as an outreach of the Thursday night sack dinners that are offered by Spokane Neighborhood Action Program in the East Central neighborhood. When organizers of the weekly meal started looking for additional sources of food, Smith and others who took part in the meetings discovered that leftover food was available at area restaurants and establishments but there was no system in place to take that food and bring it to the hungry in Spokane.
"Up until now, no one has addressed how we can rescue that food and get it in the hands of the people who need it the most," said Smith.
In order to make sure that the food they collect and then serve remains safe, the Feed Spokane coalition invited a representative from the Spokane Regional Health District to sit on its steering committee as well as to provide guidance to volunteers, Smith said.
Basically, here's how food rescue works: Restaurants freeze their leftovers in order to prevent spoilage. Volunteers then collect the frozen food and deliver it to meal sites, where it's later reheated and served immediately. Feed Spokane also stores food in three upright freezers located at Truth Ministries.
Since Feed Spokane became a separate nonprofit entity a year ago, nearly two dozen restaurants have become involved with its efforts. In addition to Arby's and the Davenport, some of those restaurants and banquet facilities include Centerplate at the Spokane Convention Center, which often gives boxed lunches and other meals to Feed Spokane; the Satellite Diner in downtown Spokane, which recently donated some soup and croissants; and the Spokane chapter of the Washington State Restaurant Association, which has encouraged its members to get involved.
Smith hopes to eventually coordinate restaurants with ministries and charities in their vicinity with his "Adopt-A-Meal Site" campaign. This would reduce gas expenses, he explained, as well as expedite the process of bringing food to the hungry. He also envisions the creation of meal sites similar to the Women's and Children's Free Restaurant, a nonprofit that serves nutritious meals to low-income women and children at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in north Spokane.
"This has been a personal journey on how real the need is in Spokane," said Smith. "If it weren't for this food, some families would go hungry. For some people out there, they work for a living and have an income, but life is still tough. To have a clean and safe place to bring their kids for a nutritious meal would mean a lot."