Local organization rescues excess food from area businesses for those in need.
Community Food Response (CFR) is feeding the hungry in Rochester. Week after week, many families come on foot, by bike and bus, to receive bread, fresh produce and prepared food that would otherwise go to waste. The need to feed the hungry—and CFR’s vital service—continue to grow.
RESPONDING TO A NEED
One in nine Minnesotans struggle with hunger, and one in six children do not have enough food to eat. Yet one-third of food is wasted. Locally, one in three Rochester school children qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Many people do not have enough food to lead healthy and active lives. They go to bed hungry, and they wake up hungry. Their refrigerators and cupboards are bare, and finances are low, so putting a decent meal on the table becomes a struggle. Rochester is not immune to the challenges of hunger.
In 1993, local individuals responded to the increasing need to feed the hungry. After viewing a PBS program about a food rescue service, they also became aware that a downtown event had been snowed out, and over 300 meals went uneaten. They realized those 300 wasted meals could have been given to those in need, and they decided Rochester should have a food rescue program similar to what they saw on TV. They recruited food donors and volunteers, and CFR was born. On the first day of service, the organization provided meals for 34 families. Over 60 people came for food on the next distribution day, and CFR keeps growing today.
ONE MISSION, TWO LOCATIONS
For more than two decades, CFR has been feeding hungry families by rescuing excess food from restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores and bakeries, and distributing it to those in need. The food is prepared and made available for recipients to pick up at Bethel Lutheran Church, which is located in southeast Rochester. In August, a second location opened at The Exchange to address needs on the north side of the city.
“Our mission is to help mitigate hunger in Rochester. We opened the second site to serve more hungry people,” says CFR Board President Beth Kosta. The second site has proven to be successful and just as necessary as the first site. This demonstrates an ongoing and persistent need for the community.
Kosta explains how the process works: “Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, CFR food suppliers set aside excess food in their refrigerators. If the food is not in a to-go container, they put it into one-quart plastic containers provided by CFR. Volunteers drive to the food suppliers, pick up food in picnic coolers and take it to the distribution site. The food is then separated into containers and categories, such as entrees, salads and desserts. It’s repackaged into distributable portions. Grocery bags are filled with meals for clients based on their family size and dietary restrictions.”
Clients can take as much bread and fresh produce as they would like and can take home a bag of prepared food to share with their family. “Friends, neighbors or social workers also can pick up food for registered clients who cannot get to the distribution sites,” says Kosta. The delivery aspect is very important, especially for homebound, elderly and disabled residents.
“In 2016, CFR collected over 105 tons of food and provided 84,905 meals to 11,597 families. On each distribution day, the organization provides about 2.5 meals to approximately 250 people,” she says. “Excess food is not wasted, but it is shared with other worthy organizations like the Gage East Apartments, Cronin Home and Ronald McDonald House.”
The impact of CFR is significant and expanding. In 2016, the organization also began sending food to programs that support at-risk youth: Rochester Public Library Homework Help and More Than Conquerors. The ability for children to learn and conquer problems can be less challenging with good nourishment.
There are no income or residency requirements to receive food from CFR. “Our clients are very gracious about the food they receive, and we are thankful to be able to help them,” explains Kosta. Each recipient is greeted with open arms and welcome to receive the food they are given.
“I’m diabetic and have been coming here for four to five years,” says a grateful recipient from a family of four. “I come at the end of the month when I run out of food. I like the soup and sandwiches, the fruit and salad. It keeps me from starving.”
Some recipients share their appreciation by giving back. “We received a sizeable monetary donation from a client in early 2016,” says Kosta. “It was the largest donation we have ever received from an individual. The accompanying note simply said, ‘Thank you for being there when I needed you.’”
Another grateful recipient wrote: “Thank you. If only you knew how much this helped us…I had ran out of funds to shelter us and wasn’t sure what to do anymore. You…gave me hope. I can say you gave me a reason not to give up.”
BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE
“We are thankful for our amazing volunteers, our 40 public-spirited food suppliers, Bethel Lutheran Church and The Exchange, who share their space at no cost, and our generous financial donors,” says Kosta. Many individuals gather each week to volunteer, and they develop a strong bond while working together to fill a need that is very important and special to each of them.
Roger Nolte has been volunteering at CFR for about 10 years. Why? “Just to help people,” he says, as he takes a break from sorting food. “It’s a good program and doesn’t get involved with eligibility criteria. If you want to come get it, we will give it to you.”
The donations to make this program possible are generous—including the dedicated space and large freezers at the sites and the delicious and fresh food, such as meats, vegetables, soups, milk and even pizza, donated by businesses. The hours (and skills) of the volunteers are equally important. Another volunteer, Glen, says he finds it meaningful to provide service to people who need it—to accept all people.
CFR operates with very low overhead. The program is staffed by only one part-time employee—and several volunteers, both groups and individuals. CFR volunteer groups are teams from 25+ area churches and service organizations that typically carry out all the volunteer roles for one day each month.
Some of the roles include:
- Liaisons recruit and schedule volunteers for all the CFR roles.
- Drivers, a role that’s especially needed, use their own vehicles and gas to collect food from a list of predetermined donors.
- Food sorters unload the food from coolers and sort it for distribution.
- Food distributors assemble and distribute bags of food for clients, clean coolers and put away leftover food.
You can help feed the hungry by assisting in several ways. First, help spread the word to potential food recipients. Or consider volunteering at CFR, making a monetary donation or joining the board. For more information, visit communityfoodresponse.org.
“I would encourage community members to get involved in whatever they are passionate about,” says Kosta, who has been president of CFR for four years and a board member for 11 years. “I got involved in CFR 24 years ago because it’s such a great cause. Who can’t love CFR?”
Kosta concludes, “We don’t want anyone to go to bed hungry.” And that makes everyone sleep better.
Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.