Food Recovery Network program expands

In April we told you about a charity competition where UMD students were awarded grant money for creating the Food Recovery Network which collects uneaten food from cafeterias across campus and sends it to nearby homeless shelters. Now the concept is spreading nationwide and Montgomery County is looking at launching a similar program.

Last year, the Food Recovery Network distributed 50,000 meals to the homeless and hungry. University of Maryland Senior Ben Simon co-founded the network, part of UMD’s do-good challenge.

Featuring Kevin Bacon as a celebrity judge, Simon’s team took first place, winning $5,000. Today he’s advising Montgomery county leaders on how to create their own network.

“Once all the non-profit entities get together, we do know that we could be an impetus for creating something that’s never been done before and we think there could be some money involved but we don’t know yet,” says Valerie Ervin, (D) Montgomery County Council.

Sponsored by council member Ervin, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to establish a work group comprised of local food industry leaders and social service providers who point out that about one-third of Montgomery County students qualify for free and reduced meals.

“Observers of the county from the outside assume a certain level of affluence and so that masks the fact that we have persistent and pervasive pockets of need, especially among children,” says Anne Sheridan of Share Our Strength.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County officials say 20-percent of the county’s waste stream is made up of food.

“And you just volunteer one time, one hour and you’re donating 100, 200 pounds of delicious food that was just selling retail value $8, $10 for a hamburger,” says Ben Simon of the Food Recovery Network.

Federal regulations mandate strict guidelines for food handling and storage, but Simon says his volunteer easily meet those standards. He says the biggest challenge is convincing restaurant and grocery store owners that, by participating, they’re not liable.

“All good faith donors are cleared from any liability under the Good Samaritan Act which was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996,” says Simon.

Simon says his Food Recovery Network is currently expanding from four universities to nine, with a goal of 400 chapters nationwide.