Reduce, Reuse, Recover: UC’s Chapter of Food Recovery Network Helps Feed Local Community


Photo provided by Maggie Reid

Maggie Reid, Features Editor

In January, Utica College launched an official chapter of the national Food Recovery Network (FRN) to reduce local hunger. Many universities across the U.S. are involved in the FRN, but UC joined the few colleges in upstate New York that participate in the national program.

Food Recovery Network is the largest student movement fighting food waste and hunger in America. It is mostly a student-run, national organization that saves fresh, unsold food from college cafeterias and gives it to hunger-relief organizations. It was founded by students at the University of Maryland in 2011.

Erin Kelly, internship program director for UC’s nutrition program, said she believes that UC’s Food Recovery Network is important for many different reasons.

“I think it’s important for us to contribute positively to the community, and by helping to feed people who are hungry, that’s definitely a good way to do it,” Kelly said. “But I think it’s also important for our students to see hunger and to recognize that there is a lot that can be done.”

Students and volunteers save and package fresh, unsold food from the college dining hall on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, the food is donated to the Rescue Mission, and on Fridays, it is donated to the Hope House.

Although UC only became an official chapter in January, the process started in fall 2018. In the beginning, it was only open to Nutrition majors. However, that has changed.

“We started off in the fall with just nutrition majors, but once we started working out the kinks in the program, now we want to open this up to anyone who wants to get involved,” Kelly said.

Senior Jason Bingay is in the nutrition program, and he helps out in the Food Recovery Network every Friday. He decided to volunteer for FRN to make a difference.

“The reason why I decided to join the Food Recovery Network is that I believe in giving back to the community,” Bingay said. “By providing the food we are able to each week, it helps those that may be food insecure.”

Senior Jasmina Muheljic is another nutrition/dietetics student who is involved in the program. She said she finds it very rewarding.

“Every day, all over the country tons of food is being thrown away for no reason at all,” she said. “Sometimes we recover over 50 pounds of food in one day and other days it’s 100 pounds of food, and knowing that we can use food from our dining hall to feed others is truly amazing.”

Kelly and the other students worked closely with Dining Services Director Damian Boehlert and Executive Chef Art Langdon.

Kelly explained that Boehlert and Langdon “will collect food for us on the days leading up to the recovery and will refrigerate it.”

“Then, when we go in to do the food recovery, they bring the food out for us,” she said.

Volunteers adhere to food safety standards by washing hands and wearing gloves, hair nets and  aprons when they repackage the food.

“We have our own reusable container that we use, we scoop the food from the colleges containers to our own, we weigh it and record it,” Kelly said. “Then it gets packaged up in insulated bags, and either myself or a student drives it to the organization.”

Since November, approximately 1,200 pounds of food have been donated, which has been key for local organizations.

“They are so grateful every time we bring food, and on Fridays, a lot of what we end up recovering are those individual salads and sandwiches from Pioneer Cafe,” Kelly said. “The first time I brought those to Hope House, the woman who was volunteering there was beside herself because they have a lot of homeless people that come there to eat, and they try to make extra sandwiches for the weekends.”

The sandwiches help to make life easier for the volunteers at the soup kitchen by reducing the amount of food they have to purchase, as well as the workload.

Muheljic said that it is important for students to take part in the FRN to get the experience of helping someone in need.

“Once you visually see the amount of food being packaged, it is amazing,” Muheljic said. “One act of kindness can go a very long way. When we show up to our sites (partnering agencies) and deliver the food, they always have the biggest smile on their faces and really appreciate what we as students and as a school do for them.”

If you want to volunteer, you can contact Erin Kelly at [email protected].