By Alessia Grunberger
When Ben Simon was an undergraduate, he and his friends noticed a problem at their dining halls: The staff was throwing away large amounts of leftover food.
In 2011, Simon and his friends created Food Recovery Network, a non-profit that recovers wasted food and repurposes it to feed the hungry. Since the program launched, more than 200,000 pounds of food have been donated to local shelters and organizations, and more than 75 chapters have been created on college campuses across the country.
Andrew Bresee, a student who helped with the expansion of the network, said a turning pointing for the organization was when it received $300,000 over its first two years from Sodexo, a primary funder. “All our grants from funders, like Sodexo, happened because of how hard Ben worked. He lived, breathed and dreamed about the project.”
Since the Food Recovery Network’s conception, Simon saw the organization grow from 10 volunteers to more than 100 volunteers.
“You really get to see how much food is being wasted,” Nina Marks, a three-time volunteer, said. “Food Recovery Network, though, is not a unique practice, and there should be initiatives like this one expanded to different restaurants and other food servicing entities.”
Typically, five students come to a dining hall at 8 or 9 p.m., and work with the campus chefs to organize, weigh and package the leftover food before bringing it to a local shelter or organization.
“We needed to collaborate with the University of Maryland Dining Services for this initiative to take off,” Simon, now a graduate student studying public policy at the university, said. “My co-founders and I had a series of meetings with dining services and we discussed what both our responsibilities were, as well as other logistics.”
Simon said that dining services was initially hesitant to form a partnership with the non-profit organization. “A large part for this collaboration is to build up trust and be responsible,” he said. “There are student coming at all directions and trying to do stuff with dining services. Some students have their stuff together, others don’t.”
Although the network has spread to other schools throughout the country, collaborating with this university’s dining halls has been a struggle recently. The university’s chapter, which is the largest chapter that recovers the most food, was just on hiatus.
Simon attributes a miscommunication between an unconfirmed organization and the dining services as the reason for the hiatus.
“I have been to Food Recovery Network four times to several different locations and saw how important that food was to those organizations, “ sophomore Ian Moritz said. “I planned out my time volunteering at Food Recovery Network and it’s unfortunate that it was suspended on such short notice.”
“It makes me curious because there is no concrete reason behind the suspension,” Moritz added. “It was a sustainably operation whenever I went to volunteer.”