Students turn waste food into meals
Campus Kitchens volunteer Chris West loads up donated food at Northwestern University's Elder Hall, as Head Cook Jose Nieves keeps track of what he's taking.| Irv Leavitt~Sun-Times Media
Chicago Wolves mascot to visit Grand Food Center
Chicago Wolves mascot “Skates” will greet young fans and pose for photos from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at The Grand Food Center, 606 Green Bay Road, Winnetka.
Skates will encourage shoppers to help Northwestern University students to gather food donations for Campus Kitchen.
The Grand will match every purchased and donated item, and will do the same Sunday when New Trier Township Food Pantry volunteers will ask shoppers for non-perishable food donations at its Glencoe store, 341 Hazel Ave.
Updated: December 9, 2012 6:15AM
The delicate half-sandwich was neatly layered with baby greens, cage-free egg slices, pesto aioli, avocado and roasted turkey breast.
College senior Melissa Davidson bagged it with a .6-ounce packaged sliver of imported Kerrygold Dubliner cheese and a pear, and crimped the top.
It would be eaten the next day by one of the clients of Connections for the Homeless.
The food was donated to Northwestern University’s branch of the Campus Kitchen Project, a nationwide non-profit. Volunteers, mostly students, pick up leftover food here and make it into 500 meals a week for people who can’t otherwise afford them in their present circumstances.
In all, there are 33 participating colleges and high schools.
Davidson helps run a weekly meal assembly team in Allison Hall’s kitchen. She says she knows it’s a coin flip whether the hard pears she’s packing will ripen before they get to Connections.
“Our goal is getting food to people,” she said. “It’s not a perfect world. We do what we can.”
Volunteer Leigh Kukanza had an idea to make it easier for individuals to donate: Volunteers outside Winnetka’s Grand Foods, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, will collect food for 700 Thanksgiving dinners, and grocery bags for 21 families.
Kukanza, 19, a volunteer since high school, says her Highland Park family shops at Grand, and so do a lot of others she knows.
“We’re not only collecting food,” she said. “We’re building awareness.”
Most of the work at Allison Hall is done by female students like Kukanza, who may work as seldom as once a quarter. Commitment ranges from energetic altruism to just fulfilling a sorority volunteer requirement.
Many want to work more, but there’s a waiting list. The volunteers like it because it’s handy – in the middle of the campus – and it’s hands-on.
“You see the food from the beginning to end,” said Yulia Bandurovych, a junior in biology.
“It’s Got to go”
Most of the food comes from the school’s cafeterias. Wilmette volunteer Chris West, 63, has a regular route hitting the Norris University Center, the Elder Hall residence, the kitschy Lisa Cafe in the Slivka Residential College, and the Allen Hall conference center.
At Elder Hall, West loads hotel pans full of bean stew, acorn squash, tofu cacciatore and meatballs, plus half-pans of lentil stew and butternut squash.
“Three days, it’s got to go,” lead cook Javier Nieves said. That’s what his employer, Sodexo, and the Evanston health inspector say. “Three days and out.”
Allen Center food-service is run by Aramark, but sometimes, special food is ordered, West said.
“One time, they asked me if I could use 30 pizzas. ‘Sure.’” He shrugged. “I guess they ordered it for some kind of event, and it didn’t work out.”
At Allison Hall, program coordinator Katie Darin tests the food with a thermometer, to see if it’s safe. She weighs and itemizes the collection, and sends a receipt to the donors.
donor tax break
The tax advantage for donating prepared food may be better than what one would expect.
Three big food donation-accepting organizations interpret Internal Revenue Code sections 170 and 1221 as allowing the cost of the ingredients to be written off, plus half the unrealized appreciation. Unrealized appreciation is market value minus cost.
So, a donation of $1 worth of cacciatore ingredients that would have sold for $3 gets a write-off of $2.
The maximum deduction can’t exceed twice the cost, however, so if the cacciatore’s priced at $5, the deduction’s still $2.
The organizations warn that their interpretation is only a guide, so donors should contact an accountant.
Non-profits donate, too. One recent night, volunteers pried apart 30 pounds of frozen baked chicken from a Northbrook Congregation Beth Shalom party that wasn’t as well-attended, or hungry, as expected.
Donations are key to the operation of Pret a Manger restaurants. The Evanston location, one of a chain of 265, donates the cute half-sandwiches, ensconced in sleeves printed with the following message: “Made today, gone today. Every night we give our fresh food to charities helping the hungry, rather than selling it the next day. It’s the right thing to do.”
Pret Assistant Manager Jose Navarro said customers like the policy.
“People know that we make everything fresh that day,” he said.