Submitted by Thurston County Solid Waste
An innovative new program called Restaurant Rescue collected over 25 tons of edible surplus food from local restaurants and schools last year. This food was transported to the Thurston County Food Bank and repackaged into healthy meals for needy families.
The program is a unique partnership between government, non-profits, local businesses, schools and the Food Bank. The goals of the program are to prevent waste and to help end hunger in our community. The program was launched with support from Thurston County Solid Waste and the Washington State Department of Ecology. They helped the Food Bank acquire a refrigerated van and install a new kitchen. The Food Bank is now partnering with a diverse group of local restaurants and schools to collect prepared food donations and repack them into delicious meals for Food Bank clients. An overview of the program is available here.
Everyone wins with the Restaurant Rescue program. Restaurants and schools win by reducing the amount of food waste they have to pay to have collected for disposal or composting. The Food Bank wins by receiving a steady source of healthy food and needy families benefit by having access to nutritious, ready-to-eat Food Bank meals, a product not available in the past.
Schools making a difference
To ensure there is enough food for every student, school kitchens sometimes prepare food that doesn’t get served. U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines prevent a lot of this food from being reheated or served to students on another day. This can result in a lot of wasted food.
There are now 24 schools in Olympia and Tumwater participating in the Restaurant Rescue program. Last year they rescued more than 4.5 tons of food that was prepared for lunch but never served to students. The Food Bank is making creative use of this school food. For example, they cut up school hotdogs and combine them with beans rescued from a local restaurant to create a ready-to-eat meal.
Tons and tons of rescued food, oh my!
From the program’s early days in 2012 until the end of 2014, Restaurant Rescue has recovered a whopping 45 tons of prepared food. That’s a lot of edible food that would have gone to waste but is now consumed by community members that use the Food Bank. And, they’re just getting started. This year, Thurston County Solid Waste is applying for another grant to expand the program.
How you can help
There is a big need for volunteers to help at the Food Bank, including volunteers to work on the Restaurant Rescue program as it expands. If you are interested in volunteering or if you’re a restaurant that would like to join the program, contact Heather Sundean with the Thurston County Food Bank at 360-352-8597. Schools that would like more information may contact Peter Guttchen with Thurston County Solid Waste at 360-867-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.