As of this past week, I am volunteering time with Iowa City-based Table to Table, an organization that picks up "wholesome, edible food" that is discarded from groceries, restaurants, and food warehouses and is redistributed through the Crisis Center's Food Bank, Shelter House, United Action for Youth, and other such programs.
I met with Volunteer Coordinator David Wellendorf, who has been an Iowa National Guardsman and is well-versed in emergency service management. I watched a ten minute presentation on safe food handling, given a hooded windbreaker in case it rained, and then was partnered with Amy, a more experienced volunteer, to make my first food pick-up using one of three refrigerated vans that the program has at its disposal thanks to the generosity of other service groups.
We stopped at three grocery stores and one restaurant in Iowa City and picked up a total of 650 pounds of foods which included, breads, fresh fruits and vegetables, desserts, milk products, and some canned goods and housekeeping supplies. After our pick-up, we made stops to redistribute food at the Shelter, UAY, and the finally, the Food Bank. At each place, the needs were different. For instance, the Shelter House has limited refrigeration space and took items that could be stored in the open like fruit, the UAY took pizzas, cake, fruit to use with the daily programs. The balance of the goods went to the Food Pantry were volunteers bag up groceries based on dietary needs and redistributes the "extras" based on demand.
According to Table to Table, last year it redistributed over a million pounds of food which would have otherwise ended up in dumpsters. From my viewpoint, this is the tip of the iceberg with regard to the amount of food that is wasted daily.
Table to Table is the only volunteer program in Iowa that redistributes food in this manner.