Friday, April 25, 2014

Salvaging Food: The Food Brigade Becomes The Food Depot (Part 3)

(This is the third of a four-part series about food salvage.  In earlier reports,we shared a guide from the National Restaurant Association and shared a memorial from the New Mexico State Legislature urging public schools in the state to donate excess food to agencies and shelters).

Chef Katherine Kagel moved to Santa Fe from northern California in 1978 to open Cafe Pasqual's. While the restaurant has been a fixture near the Santa Fe Plaza for about 36 years, Chef Kagel made another important contribution to Santa Fe: she created The Food Brigade, an all-volunteer organization that collected excess foods from grocers and restaurants and delivered them to Santa Fe's feeding programs and shelters. The Food Brigade was a natural step for Chef Kagel, who  helped to found the international association of prepared and perishable food rescue programs, Foodchain.

The Food Brigade evolved into The Food Depot, a food bank that serves Santa Fe and nine northern counties through 10 satellite food banks. Foodchain followed a similar path, becoming part of the operations of America's Second Harvest (which is now Feeding America).

The Food Depot now serves some 125 northern New Mexico social service agencies with perishable and non-perishable foods."The Food Brigade, along with a few other nonprofits, recognized the need for a more complete food rescue in Santa Fe so they formed The Food Depot," said Sherry Hooper, the director of the food bank.

Food Depot in Santa Fe
While the Food Depot serves the traditional role of a food bank,which is to provide packaged foods and fresh produce to pantries and feeding sites, the Santa Fe food bank is to some extent continuing the mission of Food Brigades (even though prepared foods are not as readily available in the current restaurant environment in the City Different). "Most restaurants prepare as ordered so they don’t have a lot of leftover food," said Food Depot director Sherry Hooper. "Plus, in Santa Fe there is not a great demand for prepared food so, while we are available to pick up and distribute prepared food, we are rarely called upon to do so."

Still, there are opportunities to pick up leftover food at a handful of eateries and bakeries in our state capital. "We collect from a few restaurants such as Olive Garden and some bakeries.We pick up at all grocery stores, bakeries, a few restaurants, the Farmers Market, etc.," said Hooper. " Restaurants call us when they have donations to make. We get deli and prepared foods from the grocery stores."

The restaurants that have an arrangement with Food Depot are Starbucks, Olive Garden, Café Pasquals, Panera, Momo & Co, Sage Bakehouse, Tribes Coffeehouse, and Walter Burke Catering.

"We will also direct a donation of prepared food directly to one of our partner agencies (homeless shelter, for example) to get this food more quickly to an agency and served (since the food is so highly perishable)," said Hooper

Hooper said, however, that meals are prepared or brought in by volunteers at many agencies or shelters, so the demand for prepared foods is not as high.  

Collecting Prepared Food in Albuquerque
I wrote a couple of years ago about the two organizations that bring prepared foods to feeding agencies in Albuquerque.   

Community Plates
Community Plates in Albuquerque is a group of Food Runners with a focus on rescuing surplus food from Food Donors in our area – including grocery stores, restaurants, and other sources – and delivering it to the Partner Agencies that already serve the 85,000 people in Albuquerque classified as food-insecure.  The local operation is part of the national Community Plates organization, which also has programs in Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield County, CT; and New Haven, CT.

"Our food runners are individuals from all walks of life. They are dedicated construction workers, business owners, medical students, teachers, doctors, pastors, and professional people with a focus on making a difference," local director Grover Stallard said on the organization's Web site. "We are always looking for new food runners and food donors. JOIN US in this challenge to end food insecurity in our area!."

Message on Desert Harvest Web site
Desert Harvest
Desert Harvest is affiliated with Adelante, an agency that works with people with disabilities. In its Web site, the organization describes its food-rescue mission: "Desert Harvest fights hunger in an incredibly cost-effective way, by making use of an existing but under-utilized food source: surplus food from restaurants, hotels, schools, and supermarkets that would otherwise be thrown away. At just 4 cents per meal, the program is considered one of the most efficient food recovery programs in the nation! The donated food gets delivered to 19 area agencies that provide meals to people in need. There are no income requirements nor any cost to the hungry."

Currently, over 70 restaurants, grocers, hotels, food distributors, schools, and caterers donate their over-run food to Desert Harvest recipient agencies. "Without Adelante's Desert Harvest program, most of that food would have ended up in landfills instead of feeding people in need," said the organization.

To donate food, volunteer, or learn more about this award-winning food recovery program, contact: Desert Harvest Coordinator 505.341.7186 or send them an e-mail (

(Tomorrow: Turning Leftover Food into Compost in Santa Fe)

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