Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Salvaging Food: The Food Brigade

File:Bagel Dumpster.jpg
This 2009 photo of a dumpster behind N.Y.C. Bagel shows how much food restaurants and grocery stores can waste. Programs like Santa Fe's Food Depot make sure excess food from retailers is instead used to feed hungry people. (Sachi Yoshitsugu/Wikimedia Commons)

[This is the third in a four-part series on salvaging food, reprinted with permission from the Bread New Mexico blog. Part 1 looked at restaurants and food waste, and part 2 explored the barriers schools face in donating excess food.]

By Carlos Navarro

Chef Katherine Kagel moved to Santa Fe, N.M., from northern California in 1978 to open Cafe Pasqual's. The restaurant has been a fixture near the Santa Fe Plaza for more than 35 years, but it isn't Chef Kagel only important contribution to Santa Fe: she created the Food Brigade, an all-volunteer organization that collected excess foods from grocers and restaurants and delivered them to Santa Fe's feeding programs and shelters. The Food Brigade was a natural step for Chef Kagel, who helped found Foodchain, the international association of prepared and perishable food rescue programs.

The Food Brigade evolved into the Food Depot, a food bank that serves Santa Fe and nine northern counties through 10 satellite food banks. Foodchain followed a similar path, becoming part of the operations of America's Second Harvest, which is now Feeding America.

The Food Depot now serves some 125 northern New Mexico social service agencies with perishable and non-perishable foods. "The Food Brigade, along with a few other nonprofits, recognized the need for a more complete food rescue in Santa Fe, so they formed the Food Depot," says Sherry Hooper, the director of the food bank.

Food Depot in Santa Fe
The Food Depot serves the traditional role of a food bank,which is to provide packaged foods and fresh produce to pantries and feeding sites, but the Santa Fe food bank is to some extent continuing the mission of the Food Brigades (even though prepared foods are not as readily available in the current restaurant environment). "Most restaurants prepare as ordered so they don’t have a lot of leftover food," says Food Depot director Sherry Hooper. "Plus, in Santa Fe there is not a great demand for prepared food so, while we are available to pick up and distribute prepared food, we are rarely called upon to do so."

Still, there are opportunities to pick up leftover food at a handful of eateries and bakeries in our state capital. "We collect from a few restaurants, such as Olive Garden, and some bakeries," says Hopper. "We pick up at all grocery stores, bakeries, a few restaurants, the Farmers Market, etc. Restaurants call us when they have donations to make. We get deli and prepared foods from the grocery stores."

The restaurants that currently have an arrangement with Food Depot are Starbucks, Olive Garden, Café Pasquals, Panera, Momo & Co, Sage Bakehouse, Tribes Coffeehouse, and Walter Burke Catering.

Hopper also says Food Depot will also direct a donation of prepared food directly to one of its partner agencies—a homeless shelter, for example—to get the food more quickly to an agency and served, since it is so highly perishable. She adds, however, that meals are prepared or brought in by volunteers at many agencies or shelters, so the demand for prepared foods is not as high.  


Collecting Prepared Food in Albuquerque

I wrote a couple of years ago about the two organizations that bring prepared foods to feeding agencies in Albuquerque.   

Community Plates in Albuquerque is a group of food runners with a focus on rescuing surplus food from food donors in our area – including grocery stores, restaurants, and other sources – and delivering it to the partner agencies that already serve the 85,000 people in Albuquerque classified as food-insecure.  The local operation is part of the national Community Plates organization, which also has programs in Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield County, Conn., and New Haven, Conn.

"Our food runners are individuals from all walks of life. They are dedicated construction workers, business owners, medical students, teachers, doctors, pastors, and professional people with a focus on making a difference," local director Grover Stallard states on the organization's website. "We are always looking for new food runners and food donors. Join us in this challenge to end food insecurity in our area!."

Desert Harvest is affiliated with Adelante, an agency that works with people with disabilities. On its website, the organization describes its food-rescue mission: "

Desert Harvest fights hunger in an incredibly cost-effective way, by making use of an existing but under-utilized food source: surplus food from restaurants, hotels, schools, and supermarkets that would otherwise be thrown away. At just 4 cents per meal, the program is considered one of the most efficient food recovery programs in the nation! The donated food gets delivered to 19 area agencies that provide meals to people in need. There are no income requirements nor any cost to the hungry.

Currently, more than 70 restaurants, grocers, hotels, food distributors, schools, and caterers donate their over-run food to Desert Harvest recipient agencies. "Without Adelante's Desert Harvest program, most of that food would have ended up in landfills instead of feeding people in need," the organization says on its website.

To donate food, volunteer, or learn more about this award-winning food recovery program, contact: Desert Harvest Coordinator 505.341.7186 or send them an e-mail (DesertHarvest@GoAdelante.org)

Carlos Navarro has been a Bread member for over 20 years and has led Bread’s presence in New Mexico for the last decade. He maintains the Bread for the World New Mexico website and blog, and serves on the Bread for the World board of directors.

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