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Six hundred pounds of food. Thirty boxes of produce. Dozens of bagels and containers of yogurt. Such surplus quantities of fresh and non-perishable goods could go uneaten and unused in Fairfield County, squandering resources and creating unnecessary waste. Instead, Catholic Charities programs such as the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and New Covenant Center in Stamford are benefitting due to a variety of rescue efforts.
New Covenant Center Director, John Gutman, with a Food Rescue donation
Alex Madoff, Food Rescue Volunteer, with a donation from Trader Joe’s in Darien heading to New Covenant Center

Food Rescue US is one of the many non-profits and volunteer groups that deliver rescued food throughout the week to social service agencies.

What began eleven years ago with two men from southwestern Connecticut setting out to address food insecurity and food waste has grown into a national movement that has rescued millions of meals in 20 states. For those working and volunteering in the Diocese of Bridgeport though, the mission is local and the answer is simple.

“There is so much need,” said Diane Geisert, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Church and the sustainability liaison for Food Rescue US – Fairfield County. “We can reduce food insecurity and at the same time look at the environmental impact of food waste.”

According to Geisert, this organization sources edible food that will not be used or sold from grocers, farmers markets, and similar businesses, keeping it out of the waste stream and into the hands of those most in need. This service, she said, unites three stakeholders – food donors, social service agencies, and volunteers.

When a donor such as Trader Joe’s in Darien has canned goods with a “sell by” date about to pass or Fairfield University has leftover food from an event, they will arrange for a rescue. This ensures that these extra fresh and shelf-stable goods will benefit guests at food pantries and soup kitchens in the diocese or be composted at nearby farms.

“Without Food Rescue, our Eat Smart Pantry would not be as stocked as it is!” said Sabine Kuczo, operations coordinator at the Thomas Merton Center which accepts deliveries from Food Rescue four days a week. “This is a great cycle. These leftovers enable us to serve those in need which helps fulfill our mission.”

Once donors such as these have boxes packed and ready, Food Rescue volunteers can sign up to transport goods through a unique software program that posts available rescues, collects data, sends a nightly email, and keeps track of volunteers. According to Haley Schulman, the Food Rescue—Fairfield County site coordinator, this system allows for a seamless transfer of donations.

“Once you see an open spot that fits your schedule, you can access so many details about the rescue—the day and time, who receives it, even the exact place to park. And the agencies are always so grateful,” Schulman said.

“We rely completely on volunteers to pick up the donations and deliver them directly to [places] that assist people facing food insecurity,” Geisert added.

While some volunteers assist occasionally throughout a given month, others choose to adopt a site and commit to a weekly rescue, creating a relationship between the donor and the receiving agency. Despite the frequency of the commitment or the size of the donation, the goal is to get the rescues covered.

Since its inception over a decade ago, Geisert said that Food Rescue US—Fairfield County has saved nearly 40 million pounds of food, stressing the environmental impact of the organization’s work. Gutman also shared how the Thomas Merton Center and New Covenant Center check all donated goods, placing the best of each product on their shelves and then composting the rest. Through the efforts of so many throughout the region, excess food now benefits families in need as well as the environment.

John Gutman, executive director at New Covenant Center, agrees. In addition to what is stocked on the shelves, he said that some of the food goes toward meal services. “The wonderful variety of produce allows our chefs to create healthy and robust meals,” he added. Food Rescue provides New Covenant Center with donations like groceries and baked goods seven days a week from partners including Costco and Whole Foods.

Gutman added that many groups including the soup kitchens themselves are involved in food rescue throughout Fairfield County, and that he is grateful to Food Rescue and all those who have joined this innovative initiative to feed those who are food insecure and keep food from going to waste and filling area landfills.

“Connecticut Food Share ,the recently-merged entity that serves as the State’s single largest resource of food to most Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens, and the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, have also been excellent partners,” he said.

(To learn more about how you can assist Catholic Charities nutrition programs, visit: www.ccfairfield.org. To volunteer for Food Rescue US—Fairfield County, visit foodrescue.us or contact Diane Geisert at [email protected].)