By Audra Goforth
The Clean Plate Club, a concept that grew out of food shortages during World War I, is a lesson many children are still taught today, with leaving food uneaten often viewed as disrespectful and wasteful. Asheville’s Food Connection takes the principle a step further by ensuring that food destined for the dumpster goes instead to those in need, thereby reducing waste and eliminating hunger.
“Food Connection allows someone who may not have eaten a well-balanced, delicious fresh meal in a while, or even someone who may regularly experience food insecurity, to enjoy the very food that people travel to Asheville and pay a lot of money to eat,” says executive director Flori Pate. “In the US, 40 percent of all the food produced is thrown away. Food Connection has kept an estimated 40,000 pounds of fresh food out of our local landfills and has connected the food to people who really need it.”
Donors submit an application and, once approved, Food Connection begins picking up surplus food immediately. The University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA) began its partnership with Food Connection in 2015, and is now the organization’s biggest donor. Between 300 and 600 pounds of food is picked up from Brown Dining Hall every week and distributed to places like BeLoved Asheville and Trinity Place, shelters for runaway youth and the homeless.
“Participating in an organization such as Food Connection is the right thing to do,” says UNCA dietician Laura Sexton. “It’s a wonderful example of how universities, corporate foodservice providers and nonprofits can rally together to strengthen the community and provide to those who need it most.”
Active Students for a Healthy Environment (ASHE) is a UNCA campus organization that supports community programs such as Food Connection.
“Especially in a community as bountiful as Asheville,” says ASHE co-president Lee Elliott, “there is simply no excuse for our residents to go hungry. I, for one, am glad there are nonprofit organizations like Food Connection working in our community to help the proverbial ‘least of these.’”
UNCA and the other donors help not only the community, but the environment as well. “Organic waste is the second highest component of landfills,” says Pate. “In landfills, the anaerobic conditions cause this wasted food to release methane gas with an environmental warming potential that is 21 times that of carbon dioxide.”
The process is simple and streamlined. Donors place surplus freshly prepared food in a disposable tray, wrap it and label with their name, location, a description of the item and the date and time it was packaged. Food Connection is texted when the food is ready and Asheville Taxi arrives to pick it up within 30 minutes.
“It benefits everyone involved. It benefits the environment, the community and it benefits the well-being of the individuals who receive the food,” says Sexton. “We are grateful for the opportunity to work so closely with our community partners.”
For more information about Food Connection or to donate, visit foodconnection.com or follow them on Facebook.