Student organizes Food Recovery Network chapter at FSU

In the FSU dining hall, above the conveyor belt that conveniently removes unwanted, half-eaten food from the view of diners, posters display the pounds of food being thrown away each day.

The weights on the poster range from 100 pounds to over 300.

Down the road, less than two miles from campus, families live in temporary housing arrangements, including the Pathways and Pearl Street shelters, which assist homeless families and largely rely on donations for provide food and supplies to these families.

A graduate student studying nutrition, Meghan Skeehan, saw this disparity and wanted to do something about it.

While surfing the web, Skeehan found an organization called the Food Recovery Network, which is a national organization founded at the University of Maryland by students who noticed the amount of food being thrown out at college dining halls and sports events. They began to recover the extra food that would have been thrown out and bring it to kitchens and shelters which help feed those in the community dealing with food insecurity.

Skeehan decided to start a chapter at Framingham State the fall semester of 2013. “They [representatives from the Food Recovery Network] really help you through the whole thing. It’s pretty simple,” she said.

Ralph Eddy, director of Dining Services, was thrilled to be brought this idea and was happy to work with Skeehan to make this program run smoothly.

He added, “I think it [volunteer work] says something about the quality of students we have here.”

The first recovery from Framingham State occurred a semester later, last spring semester, when Skeehan began bringing food to local shelters once a week. She picked up the food, always frozen and often soup, from the Dining Commons, where workers had prepared the food in aluminum trays and set it aside. She would load the food into her car, mark down the weight, type of food and the volunteers participating with her in order to report back to her contact at the Food Recovery Network.

For the first semester or so, she was the only volunteer. Now, there are about 15 students who signed up for emails after nutrition department faculty asked around, and Tori Dost, the service intern at SILD, sent an email to students who might be interested in volunteering.

Dost helped Skeehan with “the logistical side” of the program, meaning helping her get a meeting room and recruit students who might be interested in participating in the program.

Dost said the program is “incredibly important” because she believes “universities have a responsibility to their community because we do have so many resources – not just financial resources, but just manpower. We have so many students who just benefit from service.

“And in terms of the Food Recovery Network, we have so much food that’s just going to waste.”

Skeehan considered trying to make FSU’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network into an official club in order to get more volunteers, but she felt going through the process wasn’t worth the results.

“The main head organization kind of funds you. They have grants available. So really, the only thing I would need sponsorship for would be to hold meetings, and I didn’t want to go through the whole process,” she said.

This semester, Skeehan said about five or six students often come on recoveries with her, including senior Jenny Wang.

“The reaction from people is the greatest part,” Wang said, adding that the experience has “opened my eyes” to the number of people in Framingham who struggle with poverty.

When no one else is able to go, Skeehan will deliver the food on her own. On one Monday in late March, Skeehan was the only student able to go on the recovery. She packed five large rectangular trays of soup onto a tall metal cart – a small number of trays compared to what she was able to bring the previous weeks.

On the way to her car, which she temporarily parked behind the McCarthy Center, a wheel fell off of the cart. Skeehan didn’t miss a beat, and supported the cart more firmly as she brought the trays of soup to her car.

Before she could bring the food anywhere, Skeehan had to call ahead to make sure the locations she was driving to would be interested in taking a few trays. She typically starts with the Pathways shelter, which is located less than ten minutes from campus and temporarily houses 14 families that are homeless to help them find jobs and safe places to stay more permanently.

The Director of Pathways in Framingham Kimberley Hicks said the shelter usually receives donated food that isn’t precooked, because many of the families prefer to cook for themselves. She added that about four to six families don’t have any income, so precooked donations such as soup are really helpful.

Skeehan asks how many trays of food the shelter is able to take this particular week, and brings in two trays of soup right to the kitchen. There are a few people in the nearby rooms, but there is little interaction between Skeehan and the people who stay at the shelter.

She gets back into her car and calls the next location – the Pearl Street Shelter, which is unaffiliated with the Pearl Street Cupboard and Café, although they both happen to be located on the same street.

Jillisa Lejeune, a case manager at the Pearl Street Shelter, said any donation greatly benefits the 12 families who live there. The shelter is required to provide food for the families if they can’t afford it themselves, so food donations greatly help the shelter’s budget.

Skeehan said, however, that she often doesn’t feel as if what she’s doing is enough. Less than an hour after leaving campus with five trays of soup, she is done with her delivery until the next Monday, when more food will be packaged and ready to be delivered.

Skeehan would really like to find a way to work more in depth with community members and create more of a relationship with the families and the workers at the shelters.

She also hopes the Framingham State chapter of the Food Recovery Network can grow so that food is recovered from more places in Framingham, such as restaurants.

Perhaps more importantly, though, she hopes more students will get involved in the program.

Kara Donahue, a senior who participates in recoveries in the Framingham State chapter, said almost everyone who participates in the program will be graduating at the end of this year, and she hopes more students will join to keep the initiative running.

Students who are interested in participating in the Food Recovery Network can email volunteer@framingham.edu.