Community Plates is a non-profit organization that has employed one simple idea to address the complex issue of hunger, and in just a handful of months, made a huge impact in our community. Community Plates connects food to people in need of it, by rescuing good food that would otherwise be thrown away and delivering it to hunger relief agencies in Fairfield County.
It has been less than one year since Kevin Mullins, Community Plates Executive Director, began asking restaurants and grocers if they were interested in donating food. Their response has been so overwhelming, that since CTBites first reported on CP’s launch in September, rescued food donations have grown from 5,000 pounds each week to more than 10,000 pounds a week. Their number of regular donors has risen from 12 to 22 and they are delivering food to 11 hunger relief organizations in Norwalk, Stamford, Bridgeport, Darien and Westport. However, now more than ever they need your help.
The additional food delivered by Community Plates volunteers helps ease the burden on food pantries, shelters and community kitchens in these communities who have seen the numbers of people in need rise over the past year. 53 percent of the food insecure population does not qualify for food stamps or other government programs for food assistance. With food costs in Fairfield County among the highest in Connecticut, this group must rely on food banks and other hunger relief agencies to help feed themselves and their families.
Community Plates manages a three-part equation to successfully meet the needs of the food insecure. Kevin’s goal is to be able to 1. retrieve what the restaurants and grocers are donating and 2. deliver what is being promised to the recipient organizations. Food runners, the third component, make the equation work and currently, there are not enough. In fact, in the last 8 weeks CP has had to put donors on hold while they wait for the number of volunteers to catch up. Community Plates has 110 active runners (most doing 1 rescue each week), but it is not enough to bridge the gap and donors are throwing out food while they wait in the wings.
Food runners volunteer to pick up food at a donating grocer or restaurant and deliver it to a specific food pantry or soup kitchen. Community Plates recently launched “The App”, an application that allows volunteers to learn what runs are open on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Volunteers can sign up for one run as their schedule allows, or adopt a run, making the same pick up and drop off at the same time each week.
I recently helped a friend with her “adopted run”, picking up 7 bins (approximately the size of a large Rubbermaid-like storage container) at Trader Joe’s in Westport and delivering them to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. The bins were filled with baked goods, breads and other non-perishables that had to be moved out to make room for Thanksgiving turkeys and other holiday fare. They were packed and ready to go when we arrived, and the entire loading operation took less than 10 minutes. On the other end, we were greeted by two staffers at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission who helped with the unloading. Community Plates has a core team of volunteers who retrieve the bins and bring them back to the donating grocer or restaurant, so we didn’t have to wait for the bins to be emptied. I found the rescue to be one of the more direct, immediate and rewarding charitable experiences I’ve ever had, not to mention one of the easiest.
Chris Mangan, who does weekly runs from Fairway Market, said he decided to volunteer because he was “struck by the high number of people living at or below the poverty line in this otherwise affluent part of the state. I wanted to do something very local and this seemed perfect. The work of Community Plates has touched me more deeply than some other volunteer activities because the satisfaction of providing food is basic and immediate. When I deliver food to shelters, I can see the men and women who are going to eat it and that makes me feel good.
Scot Sedley, another CP Food Runner, echoed Chris’ sentiments. “Even though Fairfield County is one of the richest counties in the country, there are MANY people in need. And by just giving 15-20 minutes a week, I can help get food to organizations serving that population. When I deliver to the Open Door Shelter, the staff is already at work, creating meals for the day, so I know that the food is going to use and I feel good about that.”
Marsha Glazer, an owner of Rowayton Seafood, first heard about Community Plates through the Monday morning blast from CT Bites. “I was so happy to learn about a program so close to home that helps to feed OUR hungry, by involving the food industry in Fairfield County. As a volunteer doing a few rescues each week, I feel I can make a difference in the quality and variety of food offered to food insecure people, as well as become part of a growing community who are dedicated to being part of the solution to hunger. Community Plates makes it easy to contribute to a growing need in Fairfield County!”
Community Plates is hoping to expand their work in Bridgeport, where there is great need, and in Greenwich, where there are currently no donors. Volunteers are needed everywhere, and the C.P. website and app make it easy to get involved. The app. provides ultimate flexibility, allowing you to register for a run tomorrow or schedule one for a specific date in in the future. You can search for runs by town or by donor or check in on a daily basis and fill an emergency run. To learn more, visit www.communityplates.org or phone 203-451-6662.