NON-PROFIT: Just Foods
Local Food Recovery Program Eases Worries of Struggling Families
| 2017 Q2 | story by Elizabeth Keever, Executive Director, Just Food
The Just Food program provides not only shelf-stable foods but also fresh foods thanks to its extensive list of partners.
Forty percent of food in the United States is never eaten. At the same time, one in eight Americans worries about where his or her next meal is coming from. This food is lost or wasted throughout many stages of the supply chain, from harvest to consumer. Food waste may be accidental or negligent, but it ultimately leads to less food available for all, especially those who need it the most.
In Lawrence, Kansas, we see a very different picture thanks to Just Food and its Food Recovery partners. Hunger remains on the rise in Lawrence, leaving 16 percent of the population struggling to put food on the table for their families. Just Food’s expansive Food Recovery program eases the worries for many of these families. Forty-five percent of families struggling with hunger in Douglas County are not eligible to receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamps. This means that Just Food and its partner agencies are their only options. Hunger in Douglas County often affects the most vulnerable members of our community: children and the elderly. In the Lawrence school district, 39 percent of children are eligible for free and reduced lunch. For seniors, 9 percent don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Many have to choose between life-saving medications and food. In 2016, Just Food served nearly 13,000 residents in the community.
In 1996, The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed. The bill was created to protect the donor and the recipient agency against liability, excepting only gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct. This freed grocery stores and restaurants from the liability of donating a wide variety of foods to food banks and pantries. In the past five years, there has been growing momentum behind the food-recovery movement.
Food-recovery efforts in the Douglas County community play a huge role in keeping up with the growing demand of food assistance. The Food Recovery program was created in late 2013 with just two stores, Hy-Vee and Natural Grocers. The partnership started because several employees at these stores struggled with throwing away good food that was no longer sellable. The first items donated were mostly bakery items and grew from there as the stores became more educated on common misconceptions about food that can be donated to food banks and pantries.
In the first year of the Food Recovery program, Just Food collected 124,390 pounds of food that would have otherwise been thrown away. It quickly became known that the food recovered was some of the most desirable food for the program’s clients. On an average day at Just Food’s food pantry, shoppers are greeted with a variety of shelf-stable items, including beans, canned vegetables and boxed dinners. With the addition of Food Recovery, the Just Food shelves began to look a lot different. On any given day, families visiting the pantry could now get a gallon of milk, fresh produce, eggs, fresh meat and cheese. The fresh selection began to make a big impact on the families that Just Food served and opened the doors to conversations about healthy diets and lifestyles.
Families that face hunger are at a much higher risk of diet-related diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. This comes at a great cost to these families and the community at large. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a 10-percent weight loss could reduce an overweight person’s lifetime medical costs by $2,200 to $5,300. With this information and the access to fresh foods, Just Food has created programming aimed at teaching its shoppers healthy and budget-friendly meals.
The first two stores paved the way for Just Food to expand food recovery along with funds received by the City of Lawrence to purchase a refrigerated box truck to make transport easier and safer for the food being donated. Partners now include restaurants, farms, university dining programs and convenience stores. Now, upwards of 2000 pounds of food are recovered each day, with nearly every grocery store in the community participating. In 2016 alone, Just Food recovered 787,072 pounds, which represents a value of $1,338,022.
The Food Recovery program would not be possible without the committed employees of local restaurants, farms and grocery stores. It feeds hundreds of families each day healthy, fresh and nutritious foods thanks to its partners: Hy-Vee, Natural Grocers, Dillons, Sprouts, Walmart, Target, Aldi, Checkers, The Merc, Kwik Shop, Lawrence Farmers Market, Voigts Farms, Juniper Hills Farm, WheatFields, LongHorn Steakhouse, Chipotle, 23rd Street Brewery, Great Harvest Bread Co., Smallcakes, Which Wich, 1900 Barker Bakery, Moon on the Meadow, Beisecker Farms, Irick Farms, Pendleton’s Farm, The University of Kansas Dining, Limestone Pizza, Clearfield Farmhaus and Eat Fit Go Healthy Foods.