Food insecurity and food waste. They are two of the biggest problems facing society. When viewed globally, or even nationally, they seem insurmountable. But, if you approach the issues from a local perspective, even neighborhood by neighborhood, getting food that’s going to be thrown away into the hands of people who will provide it to people who really need it suddenly becomes more manageable. At least, that’s the belief and hope of Danielle Lehman, a local woman on the verge of something important-getting local restaurants to donate food they otherwise would toss to area relief organizations. “This is really an offshoot of my podcast, Openbelly, which I started about a year ago to highlight what immigrants are doing to contribute to Kansas City’s food community. The idea is to have an open mind, an open heart, and an open belly and see food from a different perspective,” Lehman shared.
Along with her podcast, Lehman looked for other ways to be a part of Kansas City’s food community. One outlet was catering. She organized a large event featuring the food of first-generation immigrants in a small bite format. There were seven chefs and tons of food, much of which was leftover and thrown away. Trays and trays of perfectly good, untouched food. Two weeks later, at a second event featuring a couple of local chefs, there was more wasted food. No one, chefs included, seemed to know what to do. Lehman decided to take the bull by the horns, and is now working with three local outlets who will take the food and get it to people in the community who need it:
But, what about health department regulations and potential liability for the restaurants? Lehman says she found those answers through a national charity, Food Rescue U.S. “There are three elements. There are the restaurants who are donating the food, the volunteers who working under the Food Rescue U.S. umbrella when they pick up and deliver the food, and the hunger relief groups. It’s all legal, and as long as the restaurants are donating to non-profit organizations and the volunteers are working with Food Rescue U.S., they have no liability,” Lehman said.
Lehman is building a network of restaurants and volunteers with a narrow focus-a handful of restaurants and bakeries in Brookside and The Crossroads, most of which Lehman has a strong personal relationship with. For now, she’s calling the program Openbelly Food Rescue. She’s hopeful the small pilot program will grow into something much bigger. “I know the program in Wichita does about a dozen pick-ups a day and they have about 50 volunteers. That’s my goal to get to that scale,” Lehman told me.
The issues of food waste and food insecurity aren’t issues most of us think about. But, in doing her podcast, Lehman was touched by the issues and struck by the numbers. “I think the latest information I saw indicates that one in eight people in the Kansas City metro is food insecure, meaning they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from. And, a lot of people think it’s just the homeless who are impacted. That’s just not the truth,” Leman stated. The fact that 40-percent of food in America winds up in the garbage also weighed heavily on Lehman to get involved. “I might not be able to solve hunger globally. I might not be able to solve food waste globally, but I know a lot of restaurant owners here. I have a pretty good following where I could get some volunteers. It wouldn’t be that hard for me to research some places that could take the food, so why not do something?” Lehman pondered. Why not indeed!