According to recent reports, almost 16,000 children around the world die every day from hunger-related causes. Even rich countries have hunger issues. Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households struggle to put food on the table. At the same time, Americans throw out 40 percent of their food. To help resolve these two problems, hunger and wasted food, a group of college students started a program which has inspired a nationwide effort.
University of Maryland student Ben Simon and his friends couldn't stand to see good food thrown out on their campus.
“We basically noticed that some of the extra food from the dining hall was going to waste at the end of the day. And we met with the dining services and asked them whether it would be okay if instead of throwing out the food we would donate it. And they were on board," he said.
So 18 months ago, the students began what they call the Food Recovery Network. Each night, volunteers would show up at a campus dining hall to pick up leftovers and deliver them to area shelters and food banks.
“When we started, we collected a little bit more than we currently do now, so maybe between [45 kilograms] to [90 kilograms] of food per night.”
So far, they have donated more than 23,000 kilos of food that would otherwise have been thrown out.
The amount of wasted food was also reduced when school officials removed trays from the dining hall. Rob Fahey is the chef.
“We do not use trays because it is proven that students fill up a tray. And this way they only pick up the plates and they can only grab so much food. And then they can go back in line to get more food if they want. That prevents wastage for that," he said.
Nationwide, $165 billion worth of food is wasted each year, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Spokesman Bob Keefe says that is about 40 percent of the country's entire food production.
“If we can reduce our waste in this country by 15 percent, we can feed 25 million hungry Americans. That is a huge benefit. That is what programs like this Food Recovery Network are doing," he said.
Christian Life Center is one of the beneficiaries of the students' efforts. Ben Slye, the senior pastor, said, “It has been just amazing to see these students take their own time, their own vehicles and own gas money and be able to make an effort like this. Each week we are able with this food probably to feed over hundred people.”
The University of Maryland's Food Recovery Network now has 200 volunteers and the program has expanded to 18 schools across the country.
“I want to grow 18 chapters to a thousand chapters within five years. And once we get to the Food Recovery Nation being at every college campus in America, we want to expand to restaurants to farms," said Simon.
The volunteers are committed to making that happen.