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By Francis Koster, Ed.D.

Each day in America, one in seven households either does not have enough to eat or does not know where next week’s food is going to come from — and this number is steadily increasing as chronic unemployment rises.

Knowing that, consider this: 27 percent of the food available for consumption in supermarkets and restaurants in America is thrown away uneaten. Restaurants in some states have been shown to toss out more than half the food they prepare — not scraps but unserved meals!

 What an opportunity!

Some organizations and communities have been working to seize this opportunity for a long time. We can learn from them.

In Florida, in 2008, an 11-year-old boy named Jack Davis thought of an idea to facilitate restaurants donating food, and he successfully lobbied to pass a law to help them. This led the famous Breakers Hotel to contact United Way of Florida, and together they found a way to turn surplus food into assistance for others. Soon, other companies and restaurants pitched in, and in 2010 a total of 12 soup kitchens and homeless shelters received enough food to cook 35,000 meals — and are on track to provide 72,000 meals in 2011. You can learn more about them at United Way’s Community Food Alliance website.

In California, more than 90,000 stores are licensed to serve food and beverages. Thanks to the efforts of Food Donation Connection, a donation coordination service, 940 of them donate surplus food, including Pizza Hut, KFC and Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants. You can see more about them at their website, Food to Donate. Think about the good that could be done if the other 89,060 stores got on board!

One of the keys to increasing the amount of salvaged food donated is to have refrigerated trucks collect the donation. Another is to have the crews of those trucks hold certificates of safe food handling. Once donors see a quality operation like that, they worry less about being blamed for an act of generosity, and donations rise.

In western North Carolina, the MANNA Food Bank collects and distributes food to 255 charities to feed those in need. They maintain a fleet of refrigerated vehicles with full-time drivers, a drive-in freezer and a drive-in cooler, and they will even collect from gardeners. You can learn more about them at www.mannafoodbank.org.One of MANNA’s partners is Salisbury-based Food Lion, which donated 31 million pounds of food in 2010 throughout the eastern United States, including North Carolina.

The Bill Emerson Act was passed nationally in 1996 with the sponsorship of then-Rep. Newt Gingrich and President Clinton and provides a uniform standard of liability protection (which allows large firms like Target and Kroger, which cross state lines, to adhere to one set of standards). In spite of this law, many supermarkets and restaurants still do not donate perfectly fine food due to unjustified fear of lawsuits in our litigious society. It seems that the folks who knew about the law upon its passing in 1996 have moved up, or on, and their younger replacements may not even know what they are allowed to do. It is one thing for the vice president to know it is safe to donate excess food — and another if the guy unloading the truck knows.

What can you do? Try reaching out to the companies that are likely to have surplus foods and encourage them to expand their programs. Clip this column and give it to your local grocery or restaurant.

Throwing away good food creates disposal costs for the organization throwing it away, costs taxpayers to expand expensive landfills and increases the strain on churches and other care-giving organizations that often have to buy food to feed the people they serve. To top it all off, a corporate donation actually increases the profit margins of donors, because they get a tax deduction for a contribution of food to a charity! What a win/win/win!

I write this column to point to structural changes we can make in our behavior as a nation, working at the local level. We are a nation faced with many challenges. At the same time, we have in our immediate neighborhoods the ingredients to address those challenges head-on, as others have successfully done. We just need to step up to the plate — and help fill it.

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