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Food Rescue

Teaming Up to Fight Waste and Feed the Needy

A staggering amount of food is wasted in America, with millions of tons ending up in landfills; a National Resources Defense Council report in 2012 estimated that up to 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten.

At the same time, 41 million Americans struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America, a hunger relief organization.

Various efforts have risen to address that disconnect. Locally, The Broadmoor and Springs Rescue Mission have teamed up in a program that has the potential to capture wasted food from hotels across the city and help several charitable organizations.

The program was born out of discussions between Larry Yonker, president and CEO of Springs Rescue Mission, and Jack Damioli, president and CEO of The Broadmoor, about the vast amount of prepared food wasted at buffets and other events – food that is perfectly good but never served.

"The food that goes into dumpsters every night, it's just terrible waste," Yonker says.

In an effort to find out if such food could be donated – and how – Damioli called Colorado Mayor John Suthers, which led to talks with health officials and others. Some legal roadblocks were navigated, including developing a waiver form to protect hotels that donate food from legal claims, and a plan was established to rescue food from The Broadmoor and deliver it to Springs Rescue Mission; D.C. Central Kitchen, a nationally known "community kitchen" in Washington, D.C., was used as a model.

To pick up and deliver the food, a truck was needed. Damioli reached out and the El Pomar Foundation and the Anschutz Foundation split the cost for the truck, a new Ford vehicle customized with a cooler chassis. That chassis "plugs into a 220 power outlet and, after charging overnight, it can run all day and keep food and whatever in the box cold all day," Damioli says.

Thousands of pounds of foods were rescued in the first few runs. Among the food picked up after the New Year's holiday was "large numbers" of uncarved prime rib, Yonker says.

The excess food comes from a need not to run empty at the buffet table. "We have a pretty good science down of what to prepare," Damioli says, "but you still have extra. Some gets repurposed to our employee cafeteria. What we can't use, we're donating."

How much food is rescued – and how often – will depend on the season and what events are being held; at peak season, Damioli envisions donations three or four times a week.

And the idea is that the truck won't be making pickups just at The Broadmoor but at several hotels in the area. "We're happy to take a role, we're happy to take the lead in this, but really this is bigger than The Broadmoor," Damioli says. 

Recipients could include not just Springs Rescue Mission, but Marian House Soup Kitchen, Salvation Army and others.

"We're grateful to be part of the conversation," says Andy Barton, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, which operates Marian House.

 Catholic Charities had a similar partnership with Cheyenne Mountain Resort about 10 years ago that ended when the resort's management changed. The soup kitchen serves about 600 meals a day and Barton noted a need for high-nutrition, high-protein food such as that provided by The Broadmoor to Springs Rescue Mission. "It's like putting better gasoline in your car," he says.

But the meals aren't only about filling an empty belly. "Food is sustenance, but more importantly it is an opportunity to engage folks in the process of working toward resiliency and stability," Barton says.

For Springs Rescue Mission, the donated food has multiple benefits, including freeing up money for case management, "which is really what helps get people back on their feet," Yonker says.

The food can also be a tool in a culinary training program, leading to careers for some. Though the food is already cooked, the culinary students can take, say, donated chicken, "break it down, and now it becomes stir fry with extra rice or extra veggies," Damioli says." So you're taking like a mystery basket, whatever you're receiving that day, repurposing it and making the next meal out of it."

Yonker praised The Broadmoor for caring enough to act and not accepting the status quo; he also pointed to other efforts to curb waste such as the nonprofit Colorado Springs Food Rescue.

"It's just going to make our community and our country better if we become better stewards of what we have," he says. "Everybody wins."