I have spent a greater portion of my life working in commercial food service. Over the last few decades, I have experienced a food cycle that seemed to be stuck, wasting expertly prepared food that hasn’t yet had the chance to adventure out of the walk in cooler. As a food service professional, that last experience you would like to have, is to be underprepared for service and at a loss for prepared items to serve to the loyal guests. An ounce of precaution in the industry often leads to tons of pre-consumer food waste. Commercial food service is not the only cog in the food cycle wheel; they have the ability to make large scale impacts in providing safe, nutritious, fully prepared meals to those that need it most. A study performed by the USDA cited food waste at retail and consumer levels accounted for 31 percent of the food supply, equaling 133 billion pounds annually.
Fifteen years ago I moved to Bloomington and began spending my days in the kitchen of Bloomington Hospital. I was excited to be introduced to a new shift in the food cycle. Three times a week a refrigerated truck would pull into the dock behind the hospital kitchen; and an employee from Hoosier Hills Food Bank would collect fully prepared food, that would otherwise ultimately be sent to the landfill. As I began spending some time at the Community Kitchen, I noticed the food cycle unfolding in front of me. The white bins used to collect food from the hospital were also taken to many other commercial establishments around the city and filled with leftover food, of an often gourmet quality. While on an afternoon volunteer shift at the Community Kitchen, in walked Will from Hoosier Hills Food Bank with a delivery of white bins filled with nutritious, quality foods. The busy volunteers at the kitchen began repacking the items into take home containers that will be provided to visitors at dinner service and other clients of the Community Kitchen.
I was able to witness a powerful shift in the often wasteful food cycle. I wanted to know more about this partnership that was rescuing food, providing it to the food insecure and keeping it out of the land of waste. I contacted Tim Clougher, Assistant Director of the Community Kitchen, for a candid take on the partnership between Hoosier Hills Food Bank’s Mealshare program and the direct impacts the Community Kitchen has experienced. Here are some of his perspectives on the partnership;
“The Hoosier Hills Food Bank’s Mealshare program is a great resource of healthy prepared foods from restaurants and food vendors all around Bloomington. Community Kitchen has partnered with Hoosier Hills to rescue food and divert it to people that need it since the program began. In 2018, Community Kitchen received over 24,000 lbs of food through the program and utilized the food in cold, reheatable carry out meals that we distribute during our dinner service at both our Rogers Street and West 11th Street locations. The rescued food, along with the leftover food we have prepared also goes into reheatable carry out meals that are delivered to both Area 10 clients and Nutrition Links, and often to meals for residents of Friend’s Place.”
“In 2018, rescued Mealshare food was the predominant resource that helped the Community Kitchen provide:
- 17,215 meals consisting of an entree and a side dish to Friend’s Place
- 3,709 meals to Area 10 homebound seniors
- 3,017 meals to HIV+ clients through Nutrition Links, a partnership with IU Health Bloomington Hospital
- 25 – 30,000 Reheatable carry out meals distributed at Community Kitchen’s Rogers Street and Express locations.”
“The Community Kitchen pays a small shared maintenance fee of approximately $0.16 per pound of food to Hoosier Hills. The food bank picks up the food in refrigerated trucks from top notch restaurants like One World Catering, The Tudor Room, Traditions Catering, the Hoosier Room and IU Health Bloomington. The professional staff at these facilities, combined with the efforts from Hoosier Hills and staff of the Community Kitchen ensure all food is handled with food safety in mind. All food donations are handled following guidelines outlined in the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program.”
Andrea Armstrong, Board member