They called it organized chaos. And, quickly, I could see why. It was a chilly Monday morning when I walked onto the warehouse grounds where Feed Spokane stores the food they rescued from 14 food service locations throughout the previous week. Twenty nonprofit “coalition partners” had arrived ahead of me. Close to 40 volunteers sifted through bins and scoured shelves set-up in the parking lot as the first phase, while Feed Spokane volunteers pulled out food from massive refrigerators and lined countertops and shelves inside the building, prepping for the second phase. Carts were pulled inside, numbers were drawn, and the river of impassioned humans flowed through the doors and rushed around the room. Within 20 minutes, the shelves were emptied, carts—and then cars, vans and trucks—filled, and plans for 16,000 meals for the week were in motion.
Feed Spokane is a nonprofit organization that brings local restaurants, delis, caterers, grocery providers and community members in the greater Spokane area together to safely rescue—and then preserve—prepared foods which then go to nonprofit organizations who serve free meals to those in need in our community. Last year, they rescued more than 192,000 pounds of food that would have otherwise been thrown in the trash, which equated to $326,400 in monetary value.
Those numbers were only derived from what Feed Spokane rescued from their current 14 food industry partners. A quick search on Zomato, the restaurant reviews app formerly known as Urbanspoon, lists 1,610 restaurants in the Spokane area. The Spokane Foodies Facebook group, run by the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild, puts the estimate of eateries at more than 2,000. Someone else shared that based on food inspection lists, that number may be closer to a gazillion. If we averaged out what the 14 food partners provided last year and then multiplied those numbers to account for an increase to 100 food partners—a drop in the bucket of the number of local eateries—those numbers would look like: 1,371,428 pounds of food donated with a value of $2,331,428 (of which partners are able to write off) … and the weekly ability to provide more than 100,000 meals.
According to a 2017 report from 2nd Harvest, one in eight people in our community is food insecure, including one in five children. That means they don’t always know where their next meal is going to come from, or if it will come at all. Twenty-five percent of Inland Northwest families with children are living below poverty level and more than 30 percent of single female households in the Spokane area are living below poverty. My attempts at finding a number to represent what the need looks like in meals per week were futile. But some quick math taking 25 percent of Spokane’s estimated population of 212,000 (our urban area population is estimated at 390,000), puts that number at 53,000 people—adults and children—who are living below poverty and, therefore, experiencing food insecurity to some degree. There are massive gaps that could be remedied in part by not throwing perfectly servable food in the trash and providing it to those in need instead, as you can see from the numbers in the above paragraph.
Why These “Handouts” are Imperative
to the Health, Hope & Vitality of our
Whether or not you feel a profound sense of social responsibility, our community needs each of us to take a proactive role in ensuring the basic needs of all members are being met—for their sake and for the sake of the whole. Not having enough food is not simply about thousands of our neighbors being hungry—food insecurity actively limits a person’s physical and mental health. When humans are hungry, our bodies produce cortisol, a stressor that signals our bodies to eat. But this stress, when prolonged, has deteriorative qualities, and the effects of food insecurity on a person’s psyche are more impactful than you might imagine. And for those expected to rise up off the streets or out of a dismal financial situation and responsibly take care of themselves or “take care of their own families,” it’s an unmanageable challenge. The research on learning disabilities, behavioral challenges, depression—even suicide—for those who experience food insecurity provides an alarming picture of how sectors of our society—our community, our people—are living, existing, operating in a constant state of survival (which prevents any level of thriving) not to mention the development and becoming of children and future generations. Humans who have the luxury of their basic needs being met are better able to make positive impact in their families, with their friends, in schools and workplaces, in the community and in our world.
Imagine the amount of waste we could prevent—and the amount of meals that could be served to those who need it most—by ensuring the eateries we visit are being good stewards of their leftovers by donating them—instead of throwing them away—for the sake of everyone. It’s the right thing to do.
Here’s to Feed(ing) Spokane, together. For a list of those who participate and the nonprofit agencies providing free meals in our community—as well as ways you can support the mission of reducing food insecurity in our city—visit feedspokane.org.
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