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We Deliver

Students rescue 100,000 pounds of food annually

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In the video above, volunteers Kati McKinney (CGS’10, COM’12) and Tina Gruene (CAS’12) conduct their weekly food run for Student Food Rescue. Photo by Chitose Suzuki

Carol Reid delicately removes bagels from a garbage bag, then moves on to pastry boxes filled with marble bread, coffeecake, and blueberry muffins, arranging them all on paper doilies set on cafeteria-style trays.

“Presentation is everything,” she says with a grin.

For five years—with the help of donations from BU’s Student Food Rescue (SFR)—Reid has coordinated a food pantry every Wednesday afternoon for her low-income neighbors at Castle Square Apartments. The 500-unit complex in Boston’s South End houses 1,400 residents, a mix of locals and internationals who hail from China, Somalia, Kenya, Russia, and other countries. Many are elderly, and 90 percent qualify for Section 8 housing.

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Reid.

Medical problems all but emptied Reid’s bank account 10 years ago, and she could no longer afford rent. An advocate at Women’s Lunch Place, a Boston daytime shelter that serves food to homeless women and their children, helped her back on her feet and found her a spot at Castle Square.

Food at Castle Square’s weekly pantry is delivered by SFR, a BU Community Service Center food salvage program, named best in America in 2005 by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

Every week throughout the year, SFR organizes approximately 18 food runs. Each is operated by two to four volunteers, who pick up breads, pastries, canned goods, and beverages from 15 local restaurants, markets, kitchens, and bakeries (including the George Sherman Union kitchen) and deliver the goods to 12 nearby pantries and shelters. Their efforts save about 100,000 pounds of food each year.

“Breads and pastries are unsold items from the night before, food that vendors would have discarded,” says SFR coordinator Julie de Jesus (CAS’11). “Canned goods may have dents or are considered ‘overstock,’ but none have expired.”

On a Wednesday at 10 a.m., SFR volunteers Tina Gruene (CAS’12) and Kati McKinney (CGS’10, COM’12) meet at the Fuller Building at 808 Commonwealth Ave. and climb into a beat-up 15-passenger silver van. While McKinney  backs up the behemoth, a vehicle that she says is “not intended for Boston’s narrow streets,” Gruene reads directions for each location, a job she’s happy to take on. “I don’t have a U.S. driver’s license,” says Gruene, a foreign exchange student from Germany.

After loading the van with boxes of baked goods from Starbucks and Whole Foods, Gruene and McKinney drive to Castle Square, where Reid greets them warmly.

Residents trickle in and out, carrying loaves of bread and other items under their arms or stashed in reusable shopping bags.

“We get to help people while seeing different parts of the city and making friends,” says McKinney. “The commitment is only two hours a week, so why wouldn’t anyone want to do it?”

For more information about SFR, visit the SFR table in the George Sherman Union (GSU) Link (located in the lobby), Tuesday, September 7, and Wednesday, September 8, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Thursday, September 9, from 7 to 9 p.m., SFR will host a welcome meeting at the GSU Conference Auditorium to discuss hunger in Boston and what SFR volunteers do every week to allay it; pizza and refreshments will be provided. During the week of September 13, temporary food runs begin—anyone can sign up for these shifts. Permanent food runs will start the following week—permanent volunteers commit to one or more food runs for the semester.

Interested in receiving email updates and joining SFR? Email Matt O’Brien and Julie de Jesus, SFR coordinators, at SFR@bu.edu, or visit the Community Service Center, GSU fourth floor.

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

This story originally ran July 29, 2010.

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