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PORTLAND — A million pounds of food can feed a lot of hungry people, but when that food is salvaged from what would otherwise be thrown away, it does even more good.
And that’s where the Wayside Food Programs comes in. It rescued 500 tons of food from grocery stores, wholesalers, farmers markets, restaurants and more last year.
It then distributed that food to 55 partner agencies throughout Cumberland County, including food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters from Falmouth to South Portland.
Headquartered in Portland, Wayside’s mission is “to increase access to food for those in need … by collaborating with other hunger agencies and community stakeholders in developing an efficient network for the collection and equitable distribution of food,” the organization’s website says.
It does that through four mobile food pantries, a healthy snacks program for kids, a community meals program and through the creation of community gardens, among other efforts, including the highly successful Food Rescue Program.
“Our Food Rescue Program salvages edible food that is not sellable for cosmetic reasons, packaging imperfections, and/or inventory levels. The food is (then) redirected to soup kitchens, food pantries and other social service agencies,” the Wayside website says.
First begun in the late 1990s, Don Morrison, the operations manager at Wayside, said the Food Rescue Program has only grown in size and reach since those early days. Now “we’re on the road five days a week,” picking up salvaged food from all over the region, he said.
In fact, Wayside now rescues all types of food from fresh produce to canned and dry goods from 160 food industry partners, including some atypical sources, such as hospitals and prisons, which pay up to $90 a pound to dispose of any food that’s not salvaged.
He said the Food Rescue Program started as a way for Wayside to stock its own soup kitchen, but then “we started sharing the food donations with other pantries and they began to rely on us, even asking for specific items.”
Morrison said salvaging food that would otherwise end up being tossed out is crucial because it allows both Wayside and its partners to provide a healthier mix of food to their clients without the expense of purchasing it.
“This way we can also feed a lot more people,” he said. And, those that rely on Wayside can also get access to fresh produce, which is not something many receiving food aid can afford to do regularly. “If you’re pinching pennies, you’re not buying fresh,” Morrison said.
He said Wayside’s food rescue effort benefits all involved. “It’s a win-win for Wayside, for the donors, for the recipients and the environment. There are so many reasons why the food is perfectly good, but not sellable.”
One reason a grocery store or other food distributor might have unsold goods on hand, for instance, is that the food items may have packaging that’s seasonally specific “and we live in a society where nobody buys something with a Christmas logo in February,” Morrison said.
He also said while local farmers do their best to plan for crop yield, the weather and other factors often impact on how much of any one item they end up picking. This time of year, for instance, Morrison said there are usually lots of tomatoes being donated, but right now it’s the “cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini that’s going crazy.”
Morrison said when Wayside’s food rescue volunteers arrive on site, such as every Wednesday at the Portland Farmers Market, “we take anything and everything they’ve got.” Then other volunteers at the warehouse sort through what’s been donated to ensure it’s still viable.
In “picking up just about everything that’s usable,” Morrison said Wayside has been able to turn excess into a good thing. “Food salvage has such a positive impact and it’s far-reaching.”
Through its food rescue efforts, Wayside Food Programs in Portland salvaged one million pounds of edible food stuffs last year that otherwise would have been thrown out.
Gleaning is a great way to salvage food that would otherwise go to waste. Here Grant’s Farm in Saco and the Maine Gleaning Network worked together to donate almost 4,000 pounds of fresh corn to the Wayside Food Programs.
Every Monday Wayside food rescue volunteer Dennis Doyle drives around the region salvaging donated food stuffs.