Food Recovery Journal

“Not only do we provide food – we provide food with dignity.”

August 21, 2015

Sarah Spelts Loebl, WDW Treasurer, Blogs About Ride Along

I recently spent a day with the We Don’t Waste crew to get a better idea of what being an innovative provider of food for the hungry is really all about.

I started out thinking that my board service gave me a good idea of what the day would be like. But, as I stood on a loading dock staring down a mountain of milk (okay, a few pallets) that needed to be distributed before the end of the day, I realized I would be ending my day with a different perspective than I had started with.

We began the day by cleaning the truck – making sure that the refrigerated chasse and the interior were spotless and in good working order. Then we set out to collect food from the Denver Botanic Gardens (left overs from a concert the night before) and a King Soopers. Scott and Tim (the WDW crew) have developed great relationships with the food providers – these first two stops were a small preview of what I would witness all day – Scott and Tim talking with our partners, getting a feel for what they have going on and how we can better serve them. Next up was Catering by Design. They gave us a bunch of prepared food, and two huge (HUGE) bags of white chocolate covered pretzels. The chefs were enthusiastic about us picking up their leftover food and were so happy it wasn’t going to waste. We also picked up from a company that supplies places like Whole Foods with soups, and from the Anschutz Medical Campus – the kitchen staff there were friendly, and I confirmed that they have the coldest walk-in freezer in town!

A quick note about the crew: Scott is WDW’s Director of Operations and was crucial in the formation and development of the organization. Tim is Director of Food Resources – he helps WDW develop relationships with new food donors and program recipients. Tim introduced me to each of our partners and talked with me about WDW’s daily challenges as well as the crew’s hopes for WDW. Not only are Scott and Tim knowledgeable and passionate about WDW’s mission, they are smart, industrious and funny!

Next, we delivered food to Street Frat and The Crossing. Street Frat is a place of brotherhood and personal growth for urban young men. The Crossing is a residential community providing long-term rehabilitation and transitional housing to people who desire to achieve a life of self-sufficiency and community contribution. One of the chefs at the Crossing was excited about making a piecrust out of those white chocolate pretzels we had picked up earlier. That white chocolate pretzel piecrust is a component of We Don’t Waste’s mission I connected with that day – not only do we provide food – we provide food with dignity. The partners we deliver food to are devoted to creating healthy, interesting and delicious food and to serving that food with dignity and compassion.

By the time we left The Crossing it was nearly 2:00 and I thought we were winding down for the day. Wow – I was wrong! Our last stop was at a company that supplies major convenience stores along the Front Range. The WDW crew told me that we started collecting food from this company because someone at the company had seen our truck in a nearby parking lot and called in – how cool is that! We pulled the truck up to the loading dock, waited for the doors to open… and saw three pallets piled high with food. As we loaded the food into our truck, they brought even more! We ended up collecting over four pallets of food – from premium Greek yogurt to gallons and gallons of milk to all beef hot dogs. A note on the loading here, and why our new dock height truck is so important – our only truck right now is lower than loading docks. So instead of rolling all of those pallets right into the truck, we had to take items off each of the pallets, put them into milk crates, and stack them in our truck. Talk about backbreaking work!

Now it’s 3:00 and we have a truck full of food and the clock is ticking… We have only a few hours to figure out to whom to deliver this large quantity of food before the agencies we work with started closing for the day. We ended up taking a second delivery to The Crossing – they were so happy to see us again – I think I heard thank you 20 times in the span of a few minutes! Then, we drove across town to the Arvada Food Pantry, where we unloaded crates and crates of dairy and other goodies. Tim gave me a tour of the facility. I saw families and individuals shopping in their pantry. I talked with the director about the challenges of running a food pantry that serves a 36 square mile radius. Their dairy budget each month is staggering, the director told me, and when WDW brings a significant amount of dairy like we did that day, we create significant space in their budget to buy something else they need. This is yet another crucial component of WDW’s operations I connected with that day – we expand and supplement the capacity and budgets of our partners by providing them with free food that they would otherwise be required to buy. Our last stop was at Metro Caring – wow, their new facility in Uptown is incredible.

At around 5:30 we pull back into the WDW parking lot. I had started the day planning to work when I got home. As I helped Scott and Tim clean the truck, all I could think about was air conditioning, a shower, and sleep! The amount of physical and mental effort required to do the work that our crew does every day is beyond impressive! I asked Scott if he could quickly tally the total servings we had collected that day. We collected nearly 30,000 servings of food in one day alone, with a dollar value of more than $100,000! In one day! Scott told me they had collected more than 50,000 servings within the last two days. Picture this – 50,000 servings is more than 1 serving sitting in every single seat at Coors Field! All this done by two people and one truck! We delivered that $100,000 of food at no cost to any of the recipients!

I follow WDW on social media. The photos of large food pickups, of fresh veggies galore, and of gratitude on the recipients’ faces always make me thankful that WDW exists. After seeing those things in person, I am filled with a sense of urgency to do more. A picture cannot do justice to the reality of what the food we deliver means to a shelter or a food pantry. A picture cannot do justice to the gratitude of a caterer who is relieved the extra food they prepared the night before won’t be going into a dumpster; or of what ten platters of frozen prepared food means to a small organization creating a place for young people to feel safe and eat a meal every evening. A picture cannot do justice to the backbreaking work of collecting and delivering all of that food, nor can a picture do justice to the relationships WDW has built with their providers and recipients over the years. Now I know that every dollar I give to We Don’t Waste, every hour of volunteer service, is leveraged to do so much more good than I could have imagined.

Seeing the impact we have on organizations throughout the metro area both big and small, and knowing that beyond helping those organizations we are helping thousands of people – folks whose only family meals are sourced through a food pantry, volunteers working hard every day to heal and reverse the cycle of homelessness and drug addiction, or teens dropping into a youth center to have a meal and feel a sense of belonging – We Don’t Waste’s mission goes far beyond what anyone could quantify in numbers or show in pictures. As I was finishing this blog I was reminded of a quote I ripped out of a magazine a few years ago:

It’s amazing what we can do to help thousands and thousand of people that we will never know or see.

This quote sums up the impact I felt after my ride along with We Don’t Waste. Thanks for joining me on my journey. I hope reading this has helped you understand more about how We Don’t Waste lives up to our name of being an innovative provider of food for the hungry!