For many students at Bellarmine, signing up for a club or student organization is more than a chance to socialize and connect with peers; it’s an opportunity to give back and to make a difference in the community. With Bellarmine’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network, founded in 2014, rising seniors Delaney Deely, Jessica Finley, Austin Adam and Corbin McGuire are tackling two societal problems head-on: food waste and food want.
“If there is food left from the dining hall, we’ll pick that up,” said Austin. “And then we go to Café Ogle, first to Einstein’s every day at 8 o’clock to pick up their bagels and then the leftover pizzas from Pizza Hut. Mondays and Wednesdays the food goes to Volunteers of America and then Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to Wayside Christian Mission.”
The Food Recovery Network is a national student-led movement that began in 2011 at the University of Maryland, College Park, and has grown to encompass 192 chapters in 42 states. Bellarmine’s chapter, in partnership with Sodexo, the university’s food provider, is the only one in Kentucky. Since 2011, the network has recovered 1.3 million pounds of food nationwide.
According to Feeding America (feedingamerica.org), a non-profit network of food banks across the United States, more than 17 percent of people in Jefferson County are “food insecure,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as having “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.”
“One of the things about food insecurity that I don’t think people grasp is that most people consider homeless people who don’t have any food at all to be food insecure,” Austin said, “but ‘food insecure’ means that you’re not getting the proper amount of food or nutrition that you need to function. It’s not necessarily you don’t have any food at all.”
Delaney added, “Families that can only afford to buy fast food every day would be considered food insecure because it’s not nutritious; they’re not getting the fruits and vegetables and the other things that they need in their daily meals.”
But taking discarded food to the hungry deals with only one facet of a larger problem. The students also work to educate people about food waste in a variety of ways. One way is through a “Scrape the Plate Night” every semester. Students in the dining hall dump their discarded food from dinner into large trash bags. The food scraps are then weighed, and the students see exactly how much food is being thrown away on an average night.
“I think that it’s kind of opened students’ eyes a lot more to what food waste is,” Austin said. “A lot of students will bring up a half-eaten piece of pizza and be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t waste anything,’ but that is food waste. … I think they’ve learned what food insecurity is and how that plays out in our society.”
The inspiration for the Bellarmine Food Recovery Network came when Delaney, Jessica, Austin and Corbin were members of the Brown Leadership Community, a two-year program for freshmen and sophomores that develops leadership, civic engagement and critical thinking skills through service.
During a summer symposium with the Brown Leadership Community, Jessica overheard a professor talking about the national Food Recovery Network. “I said, ‘Hey, I wanna do that!’ So I got together with Corbin, Delaney and Austin, and we formed a co-director relationship,” Jessica said.
To the volunteers and families at Wayside Christian Mission and Volunteers of America, these students are already well-known.
“I go to Wayside on Tuesdays,” Delaney said, “and a lot of times there will be women in the room where we drop the food off, having meetings. Sometimes there are children there, too. So it’s just really cool to see them and how excited they are to get the food, especially when we bring in pizzas from Pizza Hut. They get really excited.”
Jessica added, “At Volunteers of America, sometimes there’s people in the kitchen area, and the people there are like ‘Oh, is the pizza here? Are you all from the pizza place?’ I say, ‘Yeah, we’re from Bellarmine.’”
Since 2014, the Bellarmine Food Recovery Network has recovered 6,500 pounds of food from Café Ogle and the University Dining Hall—1,844 pounds this past semester alone. But the issue won’t go away after graduation.
“Our main goal is making sure that as we graduate next year the program sustains, and we have people to take over when we leave,” said Austin.
Learn more about Bellarmine’s Food Recovery Network at facebook.com/bellarminefrn and instagram.com/bellarminefrn.
By Walter Parker ’15