Getting Groceries Where They’re Needed
Dare to Care’s Retail Pickup Program puts a dent in food waste crisis
Louisville-area families experiencing food hardship five years ago had a next-to-impossible task of finding fresh, protein-packed meals to stave off hunger.
That all changed with Dare to Care’s Retail Store Pickup Program. Now, 99 retailers are part of the nonprofit’s initiative that distributed over 4 million pounds of fresh food — vegetables, fruit, chicken, beef and other perishables — in the fiscal year that ended this past June. The program has grown to provide Dare to Care with 25% of its overall food distribution.
“This is getting us food that was not accessible to us and not accessible to this community not that long ago,” said Stan Siegwald, director of strategic initiatives for Dare to Care, which partners with over 300 food pantries, shelters and emergency kitchens in 13 counties in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
“Having access to this primarily perishable food is incredible. Before this program, getting perishable protein was a pipe dream. Getting this now is a boon for the community and the tens of thousands of families that struggle every day.”
The program, which draws from retail chains like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Meijer, Target, Lucky’s Market, Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods and others, is on the frontlines of battling a national food waste crisis.
In 2013 alone, more than 37 million tons of food waste was generated in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Grocery stores account for about 11% of that waste.
“It feels very rewarding to know our community is always looking for ways to try to harvest as much surplus food as we can to help our neighbors,” Siegwald said. “I think so much of the research we do to try to get an aggregated scale that is put to good use can be a challenge.”
“That’s something the retailers have worked with us to make happen. It really is heartwarming to see the generosity of this community and the passion of so many people to help folks they don’t even know.”
Lucky’s Market on Hurstbourne Parkway donates about $500 or $600 worth of fruits and vegetables and bakery goods, as well as nonperishable items, like dented cans, to Dare to Care each week.
“One of the things that Lucky’s is all about is community,” said Tom Bahl, store director. “We try to create an environment where customers feel like they’re shopping in their neighborhood grocery store, where everyone knows your name. The organization is the type of place where we want our customers to feel appreciated. If we can help out the community by donating products, then it’s a good thing.”
Kroger stores in the Kentucky market have donated 1.18 million pounds of fresh, nutritious foods so far this year through its Perishable Donation Partnership, which includes Dare to Care, God’s Pantry in Lexington and Feeding America of Kentucky’s Heartland in Elizabethtown.
“Unfortunately the need remains great and we are so fortunate to have Dare to Care Food Bank in our community,” said Kroger spokesman Tim McGurk. “We rely on their expertise because they know how to do the most good with every dollar and every pound of food they receive.”
Dare to Care has it down to a science.
The Retail Pickup Program works something like this: As a product, typically perishable, gets close to its sell-by date, the retailer will freeze it and place it in special donation bins. At least once a week, Dare to Care will pick up the products and issue a donation receipt to the retailer. The food then comes back to Dare to Care to be distributed to one of its nonprofit food assistance partners. These partners include food pantries; feeding sites, like St. Vincent DePaul Open Hand Kitchen; and closed network programs, like Family Scholar House.
The more than 4 million pounds of food collected in the last fiscal year included:
- 1.1 million pounds of produce
- 880,000 pounds of meat
- 145,000 pounds of dairy products
Siegwald was quick to praise the retailers, many of which had a reluctance to donate in the past because of health concerns with the safe handling of food.
“The last thing anybody wanted to do was get anyone sick. They have done a great job to work with us locally and across the country to learn and get to the capacity to be able to handle this food properly,” Siegwald said, adding that training in proper food handling and temperature-controlled trucks helped ease retailers’ concerns. “If we’re adding a million pounds of protein it has to be handled right,” Siegwald said. “It was a big leap for everybody.”
In total, Dare to Care distributed over 21 million pounds of food last fiscal year — 90% of it donated. Of the food that was donated, 75% was most likely surplus food from the food industry, meaning it more likely than not would have been wasted had it not been donated to Dare to Care for charitable food assistance, according to Siegwald.
“It’s very hard to exaggerate its importance to us,” Siegwald said of the retail program. “As we look going forward, we need to provide more food to this community.” The need is great: One in six people in Louisville is food insecure, which translates to about 200,000 people, according to Siegwald. About five years ago, those hungry bellies were fed mainly with nonperishable items, like tuna from can or a box of macaroni and cheese. Times have changed, for the good.
“It seems to me, and this is just Stan speaking, but it helps when what you’re getting is more than just a box of nonperishable food,” Siegwald said. “If you’re able to get fresh corn on cob, cantaloupe and watermelon, fresh pineapples, if you’re able to get chicken that you can take home and prepare, I think there is an element of satisfaction, emotional satisfaction that is really evident.
“I think it is a critical piece for health and nutrition. It can’t be overstated.”