By George Stubbs
Estimates of the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States are upwards of 40% of the food supply—a shocking total that has attracted the attention of cities and states around the country, including Massachusetts, and placed food waste at the top of the list of those fractions of our municipal solid waste that must be diverted from landfills.
Popular options for food (or “organic”) waste diversion are composting and energy generation. Certain organic wastes are ideal for creating new soil amendment products, and composting is becoming more popular in cities, towns, schools, and even individual households. At the same time, decomposing organic matter also generates a biogas that can be used as an energy source, and landfills and wastewater treatment plants are capturing that biogas to do just that.
Those aren’t the only options. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency places one other option at the top of the organic waste management hierarchy—“repurposing” or “rescuing” food that’s discarded by stores, restaurants, and other entities but is still edible and can be donated to food banks.
Young people around the country are riding a wave of inspiration and taking up this challenge—including some enterprise students right here in Melrose. About a year ago, Isaac Pacor, a Melrose resident and student at St. John’s Preparatory Academy, heard a podcast by a high-school senior in California named Camille Posard (she’s now attending UCLA), who had started up her own food rescue. Her operation, the non-profit Donate, Don’t Dump (www.donatedontdump.org), was one of the first organizations of its kind and has become an award-winning and nationally recognized non-profit working in the food rescue arena. The mission resonated with Isaac: Why not do something similar here in Massachusetts.
Isaac posted an Instagram through the city of Melrose indicating his interest in starting up such a group, and the idea inspired a big response. The result of subsequent conversations and e-mails was the formation by Isaac and seven other students at St. John’s and Melrose High School—Jenna Santos, Sean Prendergast, Olivia Writtenburg, Lily Russel, Yvanne Nagasa, Devin Castano, and Tess Castergine—of Next Meal, an organization dedicated to rescuing edible food that would otherwise have been tossed and donating it to food pantries in area.
The fledgling group first developed a mission statement:
“Next Meal is an up-and-coming, soon-to-be non-profit organization dedicated to reducing hunger nationwide and educating the public about the multiple effects that food waste has on America. We hope that by collecting healthy, rescued food—food that would otherwise be thrown away—from supermarkets, restaurants, and schools, and redistributing it to local food pantries, we will make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.”
For various reasons, the group decided not to become one of the chapters of Donate, Don’t Dump, but instead is pursuing independent non-profit status. That’s a lengthy process that’s currently consuming much of the group’s time, Isaac acknowledges, but he and his core group hope to achieve that status by September.
In the meantime, Next Meal has been visiting food pantries and is developing an initial relationship with A Servant’s Heart, a food pantry operated out of Faith Evangelical Church here in Melrose. It is also contacting elementary schools in Melrose to explore the potential for setting up food sorting and collection systems and food-drive operations. The idea would be for the Next Meal team to swing buy on a daily basis, pick up the collected food, and deliver it to food pantries like A Servant’s Heart.
Isaac acknowledges that making Next Meal a sustainable operation is a big concern. After all, he and his team do plan to graduate from high school and move on with the next steps in their lives. That’s one reason why Next Meal has chosen to work initially with the schools—in addition to the fact that schools generate a fair quantity of recoverable food. “This is an effort to inspire students and get them involved at a young age,” says Isaac. The Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, for example, has established an environment-oriented club that has become quite strong and active. “We hope to leverage relationships like that one.”
The students at Next Meal have energy, brains, and inspiration on their side, but they’d still welcome the help and support of others. If you are interested in providing some support, or just in finding out more about the group, contact the group via Facebook or its e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime: Go Next Meal!