Students donate leftovers to shelters

About a year ago at dinner, sophomore psychology major Brittany Finigan began to think about what happens to the leftover food from the dining hall. Finigan said she turned to someone sitting next to her, who worked for food services, and asked what happens to the extra food, and he said most of it was just thrown away. This is what inspired Finigan to research and eventually start UIndy Food Recovery Network.

UFRN has volunteers get together on Tuesday nights and package the leftover food from the dining hall to donate to shelters. The group is part of a larger organization across America called Food Recovery Network.

According to its website, foodrecoverynetwork.org, FRN was started in 2011 by three students at the University of Maryland,  College Park.  The organization continued to grow, and it now has 172 chapters around the United States with 1,115, 640 pounds of food recovered.

Students from Perry Meridian High School and Southport High School volunteer with UIndy Food Recovery Network as part of the Burmese American Community Institute’s Upward College Program. Photo by Kameron Casey
Students from Perry Meridian High School and Southport High School volunteer with UIndy Food Recovery Network as part of the Burmese American Community Institute’s Upward College Program. Photo by Kameron Casey

When Finigan began to wonder about where the leftover food was going, she went online and did research. She said one of the first things she found was FRN. Finigan said she worked with the group to set up a chapter at the University of Indianapolis.

“First, I did contact them [FRN], just to see how I should go about all of it,” she said. “And the first step was to obviously talk to my dining hall, talk to the dining hall manager.…  When I did she was completely on board. She just had to make sure that it would be OK—that the university would be safe in donating food and void any lawsuits.”

Finigan explained that the university is protected under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.  It protects businesses that want to donate their leftover food to a nonprofit organization from criminal or civil liability,  according to feedingamerica.org.

After getting the approval of the university,  Finigan said she looked for shelters to which the food could be donated. The group now donates to Wheeler Mission Ministries, the Salvation Army Women and Children’s Shelter and occasionally Holy Family Shelter and alternates to whom they donate every week.

“We go there [to the kitchen] once a week, so just Tuesday nights. What they [dining hall staff] do is the week prior, they save up all the food that they think will eventually just have to be donated. And they just keep that in the fridge until we come on Tuesday nights.  Because UIndy’s pretty good about reusing their food … we stopped at three [places to donate to]…. But eventually we’d like to do more nights and obviously donate to more places.”

Finigan said UFRN usually has about three or four volunteers helping on Tuesdays, with the exception of the nights when groups come in. She said the softball team will sometimes help out and recently, UFRN had a class of high school students come in to help. But she would like to get more volunteers.

Finigan would like to see UFRN expand. She currently is working with Food Rescue K-12 to get schools in Marion County to start recovering and donating some of their food. UIndy is one of three chapters in Indiana, according to FRN’s website, so Finigan would like to go to other campuses and talk to them about joining FRN. As for UIndy, Finigan would like to see UFRN grow to be more than just a volunteer organization.

“Instead of it just being set as a volunteer organization, I would really like to see it become an RSO on campus. I think it has a lot of potential. I feel like there is more that we can do just outside of our  Tuesday night recovery nights, such as maybe trying to figure out how we can start composting on campus, [and] being more of an advocate for environmental sustainability, especially with recycling. I think it could definitely branch out to different environmental sustainabilities involvement and just going out and volunteering at the shelters is something.”

Finigan estimated that UFRN has recovered up to 800 pounds of food and she estimates that the group has recovered about 170 pounds of food this semester.