Written by Brian Novack
Left to right, food runners Jacqueline Nader, Ismael G, Rachel Berg box fresh crops at CitySeed Market.
Willimantic, Conn. - Every 3.6 seconds, somewhere around the world, someone dies of starvation. As tragic as this fact is, eight students from Eastern Connecticut State University involved with the Food Runners Organization are trying to impact this statistic. Food Runners is an organization that collects leftover food from local restaurants and farmers markets to give to local soup kitchens.
Left to right, Eastern food runners Maiyah Gamble-Rivers, Alyssa Pezzello, Kyle Droniak load van in Main St Café parking lot.
Every Tuesday at 2 p.m. the eight students, through Eastern's Center for Community Engagement, head down to the Main Street Café to gather leftovers. Colin Doherty, Eastern's Community Service Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, serves as the lead runner. "I have worked in food services since high school, and in doing that you see how much food is wasted when it could easily be donated," says Doherty. "Covenant Soup Kitchen is always in need of food. We are currently in the process of getting more restaurants in the area involved, and if this works out, we should be able to get a lot more food to help feed more people."
Foodrunner Andy Geremia helps unload food with Brit Cava at Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.
Andy Geremia, an alumnus of Central Connecticut State University who originally recruited the Eastern students into Food Runners of Connecticut, had heard about a Food Runners organization in San Francisco on the radio and wondered why there was not a similar program in Connecticut. Geremia immediately called Mary Risely, the organization's founder in San Francisco, for information. "The concept sounded simple; relay excess food to those in need." Geremia turned to the Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative at the University of Connecticut's School of Law for support and a few weeks later, the Food Runners of Connecticut was up and running. Eastern students Brit Cava '12, a political science major from Torrington; Maiyah Gamble-Rivers '12, an art history major from Providence, RI; and Jackie Bishop '11, a secondary education and history/social science major from Newington, quickly joined the cause. "I enjoy participating in the Food Runners because I have seen the crippling effects of poverty time and time again," said Gamble-Rivers. "It wasn't until I saw a homeless man eating out of the trash that I decided to stop being apathetic and become active."
Geremia and Brit Cava inside Covenant Soup Kitchen.
"Being in Food Runners is very personable, and I feel as though I am making a difference because I can be involved in the process from start to finish," Bishop said. "Food Runners gives people in need the hope that there will always be someone there to feed them even when they are in dire circumstances."
The Food Runners are not alone in the fight against hunger. Three local farmers markets in Coventry, New Haven and Farmington are also contributing food. Winter Caplanson of the Coventry Regional Farmers Market recently donated fresh melons, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, apples and squash. "Connecticut Food Runners provides a valuable link between producers and consumers. Coventry Market has been donating food for years, but never with a fully committed organization such as the Food Runners," said Caplanson. "Volunteers in the past were almost always reliable, but occasionally missed their scheduled food pick up due to other priorities, disappointing the recipients and putting the routine of donating that our vendors had become accustomed to at risk. Now that the Food Runners are in charge, risk of missing a week of food is out of the question."
Peggy Hall, manager of Hill-Stead Museum's Farmers Market in Farmington, sells and donates bushels and bushels of fresh and organic food. "If we do not have a market one day, the surplus food may be fed to the animals or discarded." Now, Food Runners arrives at closing time each week to receive all of the leftovers, or about six bushels of food per week.
CitySeed Market of New Haven is managed by Rachel Berg. "With all of the fruit and vegetables left over at a farmers market and all of the people in the New Haven area who do not have enough to eat, it is a win-win to be able to connect with these two populations," she says. "Food Runners Connecticut is entirely volunteer and I think it is wonderful that people are willing to donate their time to this caring cause."
Food Runners Connecticut is a 501-c3 nonprofit organization. All food and financial donations are tax deductible. Every dollar donated is used to support its mission. Monetary donations can be made directly at www.foodrunnersct.org or mailed to Food Runners Connecticut, P.O. Box 856, Southington, CT 06489.