Every year millions of dollars of edible food winds up at the landfill: some comes from restaurants, some from large supermarket chains that can't get certain items to store shelves in time to sell before the expiration date. This week The Rhode Island Spotlight focuses on two men who came out retirement five years ago and created an organization that re-routes that food to the tables of hungry people.
Click HERE to see a list of food sponsors.
Visit the We Share Hope website.
It is just after 10 o'clock on a Friday morning and Steven Martin is on a rescue mission.
His destination: The Stop &Stop Distribution Center in Freetown, Massachusetts - which supplies 250 stores in five states.
Martin's partner on this mission - Jim MacDougal.
Martin and MacDougal are here to ``rescue'' 87 cases of fresh chicken that Stop & Shop won't be able to get to store shelves in time to sell. The retail cost is about $6,000. In a matter of minutes, a Stop and Shop worker loads the cases into a refrigerated truck driven by Martin.
Within an hour, he arrives at the Open Table of Christ United Methodist Church in South Providence, where volunteers are ready to spring into action. Case by case the chicken travels down a makeshift ramp to the church basement - where freezers and refrigerators await. Some of the chicken will be on a dinner table tonight, some stored for future distribution to the more than 400 households the church helps feed monthly.
Welcome to the daily operation known as We Share Hope - a non-profit organization started five years ago by Martin, who has a background in healthcare administration and food service - and MacDougal, who worked for years in corporate sales.
They describe their mission as food rescue and this year the organization will redistribution millions of dollars of food that would have been dumped.
Martin: `` Nobody asked to be poor, people don't volunteer for that.''
MacDouglas: ``The Good Lord said: `Hey, open your eyes and look,' and I did.''
MacDougal says he saw it first-hand in his hometown of Warren: people struggling to put food on the table. He was volunteering at the time at his parish's food pantry.
MacDougal: ``I was actually taking money out of pocket and going to an Ocean State Job Lot in Warren and buying discounted food and bringing it to a pantry in Warren, hoping that would make a difference. And while it did it certainly didn't address the overwhelming demand, which was increasing back 5 1/2 years ago.''
So MacDougal, who had taken an early retirement when his wife became sick, eventually dying of cancer, began approaching local companies to see if they would be willing to donate food nearing its expiration date.
MacDougal: ``Now whether it's my appearances that exacts sympathy from people when I say can you help us, whether it's basically more the case their philanthropic sincerity for mankind, that in most cases the people I talked to and have the pleasure of working with for five plus years have no reservations in trying to help whenever they can and in the quantity they can.''
Hummel: ``You told me initially though, that for all of the success you had down the line there were a lot of closed doors initially.''
Hummel: ``And do you think that is because they didn't get the concept or there was some concern, why?''
MacDougal: ``There's a very simply answer and one that unfortunately to a degree prevails today. As we both know we live in a litigious society.''
MacDougal says the Emerson Act, signed by President Clinton, addresses the liability question for food donated to nonprofits. He carries a copy with him.
Hummel: `` You're saying the liability ends when the food goes out the door.''
MacDougal: ``At the point of pickup without any disturbing of the original packing, We Share Hope takes in the liability and responsibility by law and we transport it to a point of delivery or distribution where it becomes their responsibility to prepare the food and put into distribution for final consumption. What we do is turn corporate America's eyes away from the lawsuit and the possible exposure to such lawsuits by looking at the federal and state laws that are codified to relieve them of the liability, allow them to deduct it as a charitable contribution, alleviate the cost at the dumpster level and landfill level and my Lord feed hungry people.''
Hummel: ``So it's triple or quadruple bang for the buck.''
MacDougal: ``I cannot think of a more successful manner in which to produce food for the hunger challenged than the way Steve and I envisioned this. And that's through rescuing.''
MacDougal describes himself at the hunter/gatherer and Martin the distributor. They operate out of the basement and first floor of this historic house in Warren, which is owned by a trust and provides them space rent-free.
Martin likes to describe We Share Hope as a trucking company - with an elaborate plan to get the donated food from here....to there.
Included on MacDougal's list of pickups every week: Blount Fine Food in Fall River, which regularly donates cases of frozen soups and chowder. Some of it will go back to We Share Hope's freezers in Warren....some of it to this soup kitchen run out of Saint Michael's Church in Bristol, a regular recipient of the organization's donated food.
But it's not only the large manufacturers providing food. Seven Stars bakery in Providence donates sandwiches it doesn't sell and in the past had been tossed at the end of the day.
MacDougal: ``These are easily $4 plus sandwiches that nobody would normally get at a shelter.''
Hummel: ``And you got a bagful.''
MacDougal: ``We have two bagfuls twice a week totaling as many as 250-300 sandwiches that go out ready to eat.''
Martin has also tapped into local universities, which he says have a tremendous amount of leftover food every day. At the dining service center in the heart of Brown University's campus students have solicited their classmates to donate bagsful of snacks with leftover money in their food accounts.
The university itself makes regular donations of leftover food, which Martin will distribute by the end of the day.
Johnson & Wales is also on board and later that morning Martin arrived at the Harbourside Campus to pick up boxes and boxes of food - some nearing expiration, some simply donated by the university.
Then there's Pepsi, which regularly donates cases of soda - and water - from its central distribution plant in Cranston. MacDougal says ginger ale is like gold at senior high-rises and water helps with kids out of school during the summer. It might also go to food pantries like this one on Manton Avenue in Providence.
The Target store in Swansea also regularly donates food and other non-perishable items like these - all because MacDougal knocked on their door and explained the program.
More recently the Shaw's in Barrington has made weekly donations or more to the effort.
All in all a total of nearly 3 dozen businesses are now on board.
And while We Share Hope, as a 501 C3 non-profit organization, receives monetary donations to help pay for truck rentals, gas and other associated costs, Martin and McaDougal have put a significant amount of their own money into the operation. And they've recruited an army of volunteers to help make it all work.
Martin: ``I made a decision to take money I inherited and money I worked for retirement and invest it in humanity understanding they need it now We're using our own resources, but we require nothing from people. So through our efforts people give us food and we freely give it to others, with no expectations.''
MacDougal: ``We have, as we're talking, two pallets of Cole slaw coming back - 63 cases, 12 pounds to a case in 1-pound containers - by the time this interview has ended and you've talked to Steve, Steve would have been on this and effectively had this distribution assigned, by the time we all go home tonight, two pallets picked up less than an hour ago will be in kitchens and in refrigerators being served to hungry people.''
Hummel: ``And where did that come from?''
MacDougal: ``A donor named Stop &Shop.''
We Share Hope also has corporate partners like Christy's Auto out of Johnston, which provides refrigerated trucks at a deeply discounted rental rate. Wood's Heating in East Providence has donated 10 vehicles, including 6 vans. Butler Automotive in East Providence does the service on the vehicles, also at a discounted rate.
Also East Bay Storage where much of the non-refrigerated food is temporarily stored. It's five minutes from Martin's house and We Share Hope has 24-hour access to the storage space, plus parking for its vehicles.
Twice a week Martin is up early cooking in his own kitchen - on the menu this morning are home fries.
And eggs - which some supermarkets won't use if even one out of the dozen is broken. Martin hard boils them, saying the eggs are a good source of protein and the shelled ones easier to eat for people with dental issues. In his garage are refrigerators full of food ready to go out. And within an hour what he cooked this morning arrives at a social service agency in Central Falls.
Then there's Gold Medal bakery in Fall River, where hundreds of customers come every day to buy discounted bread. Gold Medal donates an estimated 3/4 of a million dollars worth of items - not only the bread that's nearing expiration, but racks and racks of regular merchandise - because the company sees the impact that We share Hope is having in the community.
Hummel: ``where would the state be today if you hadn't founded this five years ago?''
Martin: ``We're told every day of the week. They're surviving because of all the food we're bringing in.
It's not only the volume, but the quality of food.''
Humme: ``You guys have put in your own resources on this.''
MacDougal: ``That's correct.''
Hummel: ``A lot of money.''
Hummel: ``I mean it's an obvious question, you're committed to doing this; people understand volunteering their time in retirement, Steve's gone into some of his retirement. Nobody expects people to do that, to that extend. So why? Why go beyond that line?''
MacDougal: ``Why not? Steve's relationship with me has produced a common thread of, we truly believe the best investment is not on Wall Street it's in mankind and if everybody stepped it up a notch as it's within their means to do so, this world would be a much easier and less difficult place to live in for all of us.''
Jim Hummel, with the Rhode Island Spotlight.