Good food discarded by grocery stores is more than enough to feed all the hungry people in our community. It just takes volunteers, planning and care.
HAVE you ever been hungry and not known where your next meal is coming from? At the age of 18, after some family conflict, Josef Hinkofer was kicked out of his house. At first this wasn’t much of a problem. He had a job in the kitchen of a major Seattle hotel. But when he broke his wrist and could not work, his situation became dire.
He lost his apartment and moved to a youth hostel. He got part-time work, but the job didn’t pay enough for both rent and food, so there were many days when Josef just went hungry. On one of those days, he knocked on the door of a church and asked for help. The priest said that they didn’t have food to give out but he did give Josef a can of cooked spinach. Josef had no kitchen, just a cot at the hostel, so he ate the spinach cold. It was awful.
Forty years later, this is still a powerful memory: “I remember the horrible metallic taste of that spinach, but I ate it all.” Josef has also not forgotten the priest’s kindness.
Hunger is a growing problem in our rich but wasteful nation. Homelessness is growing alarmingly in our region and there are plenty of people with jobs and homes who struggle to afford to feed themselves.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We throw away enough food every day to feed all of the hungry people in our cities. Retailers and consumers throw away an estimated 133 billion pounds of food every year in the United States. The volume of safe, edible food thrown into dumpsters from a single supermarket could, in Josef’s words, “feed an army.”
So 40 years after knocking on the door of a church looking for food, Josef proposed starting a feeding program at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Shoreline.
He said, “I’m a cook, I work at Safeway. We throw away enough food to feed an army every day, and we have a great kitchen here at the church. Let’s feed people.” Since that first conversation five years ago, we have grown our program to feed more than 300 people every Tuesday night, feeding 100 at the church and delivering meals to five different homeless camps. This is a replicable model and, after five years, the feeding program continues to be self-sustaining.
Most of the food comes from grocery stores that allow gathering items they would otherwise throw away. Developing these relationships took come diligence, but now St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church has a written agreement with Safeway’s regional management. Safeway is now an enthusiastic supporter and last year presented Josef with a $5,000 check in support of the feeding ministry.
There are certainly challenges to feeding people this way. We work hard to maintain strict standards for food safety and food handling. We always have team leaders with food-handling permits in the kitchen supervising. Using the bruised and damaged fruits and vegetables takes more time and care, but we have an abundance of volunteers.
Despite feeding more than 300 people every Tuesday night, we still leave behind plenty of food. We are one church gathering food from one store, one day a week. The program supports itself with the donations people give at the door and with a few donations from parishioners. The average cost is around $1 per person served.
Our model of feeding the hungry can be replicated. Any church or organization with a decent kitchen and a handful of volunteers could do this. We throw away enough food to feed all the hungry people in our cities every day. That food can be a blessing to a hungry person rather than rot in a landfill.