Student group fights food waste and feeds the hungry

Yahoo News
Ben Simon (center) at a food recovery at  George Washington University's Marvin Center on April 5, 2013. Najeff Waseem, Founder of the GWU chapter (left), Andrew Bresee, (right), Co-Founder of FRN. (Photo courtesy of - Ben Simon/Food Recovery Network)
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Ben Simon (center) recovering food at  George Washington University's Marvin Center on April 5, 2013. Najeff Waseem, Founder of the GWU chapter (left), Andrew Bresee, (right), Co-Founder of FRN. (Photo courtesy of Ben Simon/Food Recovery Network)

Student Ben Simon saw a problem at his University of Maryland dining hall: lots of food going to waste.

So two years ago he started the volunteer-driven Food Recovery Network to take uneaten food from the college cafeteria and deliver it nightly to local charities that feed the hungry.

“An amazing amount of food gets thrown into a trash can,” Simon told Yahoo News. “It evokes a very innate response to jump into action.”

Simon, who is a Do Something award finalist, has seen his organization grow from 10 volunteers to over 400 volunteers on 23 college campuses.

“I personally have a background of always being involved in soup kitchens, food drives,” said the 23-year-old, who is now the full-time executive director of FRN. “I’ve always cared about hungry people in America and in the D.C. area. I knew there was a tremendous need of good people who need this food.”

Since September 2011, over 166,000 pounds of food have gone to the hungry and not to landfills. This was accomplished through a system that is remarkably simple:

Around 9 p.m. each night, about five volunteers arrive at the dining hall kitchens or at sporting or catered events to box up unsold food. The food is then driven, walked or biked to local charities and frozen for when it’s needed. All this happens in a maximum of two hours.

The Food Recovery Network has plenty of room for growth. Simon says that 75 percent of college campuses have no food recovery program.

“A staggering 40 percent of all food grown or raised in the U.S. goes to waste while more than 50 million people in the country are at risk of hunger. Food Recovery Network represents the type of innovative, student-led approach to ending hunger that can effect real change in local communities,” said Robert A. Stern, chair of the Sodexo Foundation, in a statement. The foundation recently gave FRN a grant for $150,000. “Raising awareness about food waste and mobilizing youth are critical components to ending hunger and Food Recovery Network offers a model that successfully addresses both.”

The relatively new nonprofit would like to see 500,000 pounds of food donated in the next 12 months and the program expanded to 150 college campuses — possible if Simon wins the $100,000 grant from Do Something.

“We’ve been able to prove the concept and show the world how easy it is to redistribute the food in a safe way,” says Simon.

The Do Something awards celebrate world changers aged 25 and younger. The grand prize winner will be announced Wednesday during a live-stream event on VH1 and will receive $100,000 toward his or her organization. This is the one of five profiles of the finalists. Vote for the grand prize winner by text.

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