Let’s multiply the loaves and fishes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 24, 2014

Think about the role of food in celebrating. We eat at wedding banquets and birthday parties. We eat at business ceremonial events with men who finally got a haircut and their lovely female companions who sport polished toe nails and new outfits. Awards are given, songs are sung, toasts made, rounds of applause and standing ovations — all in a room with plates and plates of food. Food is surrounded by good emotion.
When the room clears, and the flowers collected, trophies carefully packed in the car, and last photos taken, a national tragedy begins to unfold out of sight of the now departed guests.
The cooked leftover food waiting in the kitchen is thrown away.
Not far from these venues of celebration sit other places where poor people without their next meal line up to get something — anything — to hold body and soul together.
Frequently there is not enough to go around.
There are two sources of opportunity. One is places that serve large crowds for special events, like banquet halls, country clubs, conference centers. The other is restaurants that serve food all day, every day. Both groups can donate more food if a few simple steps are taken.
The first is a change of process during the planning of the event. The person throwing the party, or the event planner, should bring up the question of donating leftovers to charity. If the desire exists to make the gift, a simple form could be offered making the donation official. Since the people throwing the party paid for the food, it really isn’t the club’s or hotel’s to give away without this simple step.
The second simple change involves scheduling. The meeting host or hostess or food service staff should call Rowan Helping Ministries a day or so before and inform them of the possibility of a food donation emerging.
I learned how frustrating it is for them to get a call late in the evening — “if you get here before we close you can have meals for 50” — leaving the charity worker with the challenge of rounding up a vehicle (possibly with refrigeration) and a driver in an hour or so very late in the evening.
Restaurants are another story. They prepare in advance large amounts of food which customers do not order. With expanded recruiting of donor restaurants, the existing collection route could be expanded, collecting huge amounts of useful food.
The third step became obvious as I spoke to both of these potential donor groups. Their fear of being sued kept them using dumpsters. A law passed in 1996 protects food donors from lawsuits, and they do not know about it!
When I sent them the law, you could hear the change in their attitude as they moved from polite to enthusiastic. So one needed step is a systematic effort to educate potential donors, done by local community supporters such as lawyers.
Think of the potential — all neighborhood restaurants, the Country Club of Salisbury, all the restaurants along the interstate exits, the fairgrounds, wineries where weddings are being held. … If we can collect prepared but surplus food, the task of feeding hungry people would get so much more effective.
In Rowan County, Rowan Helping Ministries operates a system of food distribution that serves more than 95,000 meals a year and could do more if we act. About 80 individuals who live in the shelter receive breakfast and dinner each evening. Jeannie’s Kitchen serves lunch to about 170 people a day. Volunteers prepare all three meals 365 days a year. In addition to the meals, Helping Ministries provides 550,000 pounds of food through its food pantry annually.
Ninety-eight percent of this comes from food donations, either prepared or cans and boxes yet to be prepared. Second Helping Drivers pick up food for Jeannie’s Kitchen from a variety of restaurants like Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. 
Prepared food can also be brought to Rowan Helping Ministries. They do need to know ahead of time so that they can be prepared to receive it. The phone number to call is 704-637-6838 ext. 117 or ext. 108.
I know we can make a better future by working together — and this is too good an opportunity to waste. We know what needs to be done. Now we need someone to step to the plate and lead the effort to put these three steps in place. You.
To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org