WASHINGTON (7News) — Reporter's Notebook: The pandemic exposed a food insecurity epidemic in our country. In fact, the Capital Area Food Bank’s 2022 Hunger Report reveals one in three in the DMV were food insecure at some point last year. Yet, as a nation, we waste an alarming amount of food. This story is a deep dive into a group providing millions of meals to those in need by preventing food waste.
Outside Columbia Heights Village Apartments in Northwest D.C., residents ponder their options on food distribution day. Ieshia Wilson has endured a lot these past couple of years.
“I’m in between jobs myself right now, actually, so this fresh food is coming in handy right now. I really appreciate it," Wilson said.
To understand how all this fresh food got here, 7News sat down with the person primarily responsible: Kate Urbank, the D.C. site director for Food Rescue US.
“We have rescued 7 million meals and that accounts to about 8.5 million pounds of food," Urbank said.
This nonprofit’s innovative approach to tackling hunger involves volunteers rescuing and distributing perfectly good food to those in need before it’s thrown away by grocery stores, restaurants and corporate cafeterias.
“There are statistics that say between 30 and 40% of food is wasted, and when we have a food insecurity problem in the United States, that’s absurd," added Urbank.
According to ReFed, the United States wasted 35% of food produced in 2019. That's 160 billion pounds of unsold and uneaten food cast aside, costing farmers, grocers and consumers more than $200 billion.
Food Rescue US-D.C. partners with supermarkets like Wegmans, where Angelica Buckmon works.
“It feels great. Nobody likes to throw away food. We give with love and we hope it’s accepted with love," Buckmon said.
One of Buckmon's jobs is packing up food otherwise destined for a landfill. Moments after she's done, Food Rescue US-D.C. volunteer Glynn Romero swoops in, loads up and heads off to Columbia Heights Village. Only 20 minutes later, we hear from a grateful Virginia Marrero, who now has food for days.
“I got Salmon, and bread, and cheese, and potatoes and pizza and I didn’t have nothing in my fridge, so I’m blessed," Marrero said.
This entire process, from pickup to delivery, is coordinated through a proprietary app ensuring short drive times so nothing spoils.
"We do direct transfers so we do not have warehousing. We do not have refrigerators and freezers," Urbank said.
Some of Urbank’s top providers are Washington institutions like the Sodexo cafeteria at the National Geographic Society, run by Executive Chef Annette Oliveras.
“I don’t like food waste because we know, in Washington D.C., what the world is going through," Chef Oliveras said.
It’s easy to see why a global outfit like National Geographic supports this program when one of its missions is protecting the wonders of our world.
“That’s what we’re all about, inspiring people to care about their planet, learn, educate and make changes," said National Geographic Society President and COO Mike Ulica.
Aramark Executive Chef Steve Haughie at Capital One Arena also goes out of his way to provide.
“It could be somebody’s only meal for the day," Chef Haughie said while helping pack up fresh food for a big delivery to Central Union Mission.
“We are really excited about what happens on the court, or on the ice, or with our E-sports teams but what we really want to do is champion the community," Anu Rangappa, Senior Vice President for Communications and Social Impact with Monumental Sports added.
Volunteer Janet Firshein then takes the short trip to Central Union Mission.
“It’s very hard being on the street. It’s dehumanizing being a homeless person. Anything we can do here to give a person a sense of love and dignity and respect we are going to do it and oftentimes that begins with a meal," Mission CEO Joe Mettimano said.
Glen Webb resides at Central Union Mission and works in the kitchen.
“It’s very encouraging for me to see the amount of donations that come in every day because it tells me that there are still people in this world who have a heart," Webb said.
"I’m glad we have people and things and places that want to help someone," resident Willie Wiggins added.
For Wiggins, this path of compassion from farm to fork boils down to one ingredient.
"It’s good to know that we have a mission that wants to show you that people do love you, that you can come get nice food for breakfast, lunch and dinner from love," Wiggins said.
Wiggins reminds us there are few human qualities as transcendent as empathy which brings us to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. Danyelle Antone works for FreshFarm, a non-profit that manages dozens of farmers' markets across the region.
"How can we close this loop and decrease food waste as well as increase access to healthy and fresh foods?" Antone asked.
Farmers like Jerrah Cernas do far more than grow and sell a nutrient-rich product.
“I don’t want it to go to waste. There are people in need," Cernas said.
At the end of each weekly market, Food Rescue U.S. volunteers hustle to see who has leftovers at the farmer's market, gathering boxes and bags stuffed with garden-fresh produce no longer destined for the trash. Then, a handful of groups that work directly with food-insecure families pull up and pack up all these healthy choices.
“We get this amazing food that the families that we serve do not have access to. This is giving them healthy, organic, fresh food every single week. It’s the difference between food in a can and fresh food that is delicious," Alicia Kiyvyra with To Be Well Fed told 7News.
The amount of food gathered allows Kate Urbank to reflect not only her bounty but the wisdom of a man who understands the power of kindness.
“One of the folks who we interviewed earlier this week talked about food being love and I think about that and I look at this and it’s really is love," said Urbank.
Urbank knows full well the plague of hunger will not be solved with an app and a couple of hundred volunteers. But she knows with each fresh food rescue --- we are inching closer.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will."