Volunteers Rescue Store Food
To Help Our Neighbors In Need
Do you ever wonder what happens to grocery store food that is not sold?
The short answer is that too much of it goes to waste. When we look at the amount of discarded food and then the tremendous need of people who go hungry, the disconnect is staggeringly tragic. Food that is perfectly edible and nutritious could be helping our food insecure neighbors.
Thanks to regular volunteers, though, extra grocery store food regularly comes to the Niles Township Food Pantry for those in need. Our volunteers work with area grocery stores to pick up food and drop it off at the Pantry, and we couldn’t be more grateful. They are taking a step toward reducing food waste in our area — and beyond.
Making use of perfectly usable food not only addresses food insecurity — a major priority in its own right — but it also has a significant and positive impact on the environment.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food is the largest category of material placed in municipal landfills. Inside these landfills, the buried food emits strong methane greenhouse gas. Municipal solid waste landfills are among the largest sources of human-related methane emissions in the United States.
What You Can Do
Niles Township receives inquiries about volunteering in the Food Pantry all the time. We have a community filled with caring and compassionate neighbors who want to help. We can’t always accommodate them because our volunteer schedule is often filled; Niles Township partners with multiple social service agencies and schools who work with special needs individuals inside the Food Pantry.
But here is a way to serve neighbors in need in a meaningful way. Stores often shop in bulk to keep shelves appearing full as a business strategy. Stock turnover happens frequently, and much of the discarded food is safe and consumable.
Our Lady Of Perpetual Help Catholic Church (OLPH) in Glenview understands the existing need in our community as well as the opportunity to rescue food that would otherwise be discarded.
“It really comes down to giving to others,” said Patti Lawler, a member of OLPH who has coordinated runs of rescued food to Niles Township for nearly five years. “It’s such a small commitment that reaps rewards for so many people.”
The OLPH all-volunteer program partners with Trader Joe’s in Glenview to collect food to bring to Niles Township twice a week. Trader Joe’s places the unwanted food on dollies and stacks it in the rear where Lawler’s team of volunteer drivers load and drive the collection to the Pantry in Skokie.
“The food is not expired or bad,” Lawler said. “Maybe they have too much of something. We bring anything from fresh veggies and fruit to other foods. Really anything.”
Trader Joe’s is not an anomaly when it comes to discarded food. Virtually all grocery stores face the same situation, which means that almost all grocery stores may have opportunities for rescued food runs.
Anyone can approach a grocery store to ask if it has a food rescue program; even if it does, is there is a day when there is no pickup? After setting up with a grocery store, volunteers need only drive food to our Pantry where our staff will help unload vehicles.
Lawler gives much of the credit for the program to her team — 14 regular drivers and at least as many backups. They are all volunteers (as is Lawler). Without their commitment, she said, the program would not be successful.
Jeff Schultz of Glenview is one of those volunteer drivers. He picks up from Trader Joe’s and drops off food at the Niles Township Food Pantry every week. A volunteer driver for at least 10 years, Schultz said that OLPH instills in its members the value of volunteering, a virtue he wanted to pass on to his four kids.
A commercial realtor, Schultz has been a leader and a part of multiple community volunteer initiatives.
“It’s very humbling to drive in with a car full of food and then see people out there in the rain and the snow waiting for their turn to go in and get food,” he said. “That’s why I do it. I don’t know what else to do to help so I do this because I think it makes me feel like I’m giving back in some way.”
Schultz estimates he brings 50 boxes or more of food to the Niles Township Food Pantry every week, and there are a couple more OLPH drivers making similar weekly runs.
“I hate throwing garbage away,” he said. “I’ll try to minimize what goes into the garbage can to a landfill. I think that’s part of the whole food thing for me, too. If there’s a way to take food from somewhere and give it additional life somewhere else, that’s what I try to do.”
In addition to Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores, the Township has received “excess food” from Kaufman’s Deli in Skokie, The Great American Bagel, Panera Bread, the Chicago Chesed Fund (bread) and more. While programs like OLPH have been a huge help, volunteers on their own have also made meaningful rescued food runs.
Michelle Kapusta and her husband, Marcus Williams, of Lincolnwood are among drivers who have brought excess store food to the Food Pantry. Just recently, after inquiring with the store, they collected food that would have been discarded from Happy Foods in Edgebrook, delivering it to the Food Pantry for those in need.
In fact, Happy Foods suggested they place a box in the lobby so they could regularly pick up excess food for the Township. Michelle and Marcus have also reached out to a nearby Aldi to try and rescue food from there as well.
“We feel like somebody has to do this,” Michelle said. “We’re going to be that somebody. There is so much waste. We know that. If there is even a tiny little bit of help that we can give to people who are in need, why not?”
The good news is that anyone can be that “somebody.” Next time you’re shopping, why not ask grocery store management about what they do with their extra good? You just may be able to help those in need and protect the environment — as well as benefit one other important person.
“Some of the time, you think you’re volunteering because you want to give to others,” Lawler said. “But I can assure you that most of the time you get back so much more. It’s just great to feel like you’re really helping people.”
Jeff Schultz delivers rescued food from Trader Joe’s to the Niles Township Food Pantry every week, volunteer work that is so important in helping neighbors in need put food on their tables.