Imagine this: you’re at the Olive Garden with your family and friends, surrounded by other tables also full of family and friends, enjoying the restaurant’s Italian dinner specialties. But what if no one orders the Chicken Marsala that night? It used to be that restaurants threw away unused food every night, much of it perfectly good. A terrible waste considering that more than 48 million Americans worry about where their next meal is going to come from–or don’t have enough to feed the family at all.
Bill Reighard, a former restaurant executive, took to heart Jesus’s instruction to his disciples after the feeding the multitudes during his ministry around the Sea of Galilee : “When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” (John 6:12) In 1992 he partnered with Yum! Brands to establish Food Donation Connection (FDC), a limited liability company that serves as a liaison between restaurants interested in donating leftover prepared food and the social service agencies that provide meals for people at risk of hunger. “Let Nothing Be Wasted” is their motto.
FDC works with restaurants, primarily chains and restaurant groups, to create Harvest Food Donation Programs and assists them in the development of product quality and handling standards, tax valuation, donation reporting and ongoing monitoring and provides other services to ensure program implementation and growth. FDC also links donors to food relief agencies in its Donor Recipient network.
Catholic Charities agencies in more than 75 cities are among the recipients of Harvest Food donations. According to FDC records, our agencies in Chicago, Joliet, La Plata, and Saint Cloud were among the first to sign up in 2000. As of 2011 we have received close to 1 million pounds of foods to serve the hungry through our programs.
In total, 248 business entities through 13,880 restaurants donated 35 million pounds to 7,908 agencies in 2011. It’s a clear demonstration of the power one person has to effect a change that impacts the lives of thousands. What began as Bill Reighard’s vision is now a global organization bringing delicious meals that used to be discarded to the hungry.
The NBC program Rock Center recently profiled one of the donors, Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52) in a segment that shows how the Harvest Food Donation program works. (See FDC’s list of donor restaurants here.) I encourage you to watch it. Then let me know what you think about this unique social enterprise and any inspiring ideas you have for feeding our neighbors in need.