When your next meal is just an uber-eats away, it’s hard to imagine that there are some who are unsure how they will feed their children dinner on a nightly basis. There are some who are even forced to choose between paying for insurance or for their own groceries. While these are circumstances many of us are fortunate enough to not have to endure, it is the life of 706,430 other people living within food insecure households. 18.9% of children in South Florida are also victims, meaning 236,270 children are going to bed hungry (Vatske, 2019). Given the prevalent hunger crisis, I decided to dedicate my service project to feeding households dealing with food insecurity. Feeding South Florida is the largest, and most efficient food bank serving families in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties. More than 98% of items donated are dispersed back into the community (Vatske, 2019). As a volunteer at the foodbank, I was able to experience firsthand the work that goes into feeding South Florida’s food insecure population.
As I had attended multiple volunteer shifts at Feeding South Florida, I was fortunate enough to have experienced each step of their meticulous process. The cycle is categorized into four segments: inspecting the donations, sorting them into categories, building boxes, and cleaning. Each shift began with a quick introduction of the foodbank, including how they operate, who they cater to, and why. The group leader explained the rules of expiration dates, dented cans, broken seals, opened bags, and more scenarios often seen when sorting the food.
Inspection of the food items was my first undertaking. I would receive a box of food, take each item out and individually inspect it to ensure it was safe to give away, then place the ones able to move on back into the box. Those that were unsafe for dispersal, such as those with tampered seals or obstructive dents, were to be discarded into the trash. Once the box was packed, a runner would come and take the box to the sorting room. Each box of inspected food was to be dispersed into categories, such as beverages, dry goods, canned vegetables, and so on. Lastly, those in the building room would sort each food category into boxes of each specific item by weight, such as “40 pounds of peanut butter.” This was by far the most gratifying stage in the process as it allowed us a get quantitative progress results.
As a considerable amount of donations were past their expiration date- I was astonished to find out that they were still perfectly safe to eat- even those a year past the marked date. As it turns out, expiration dates are unreliable gauges for spoiled foods. This lack of education on the matter has resulted in households that toss out perfectly edible products- wasting both food and money. According to Feeding South Florida, it has been estimated that in the US alone, 70 billion pounds of good, safe food are thrown out each year. And given that South Florida is facing a hunger crisis in its own backyard, it is a no-brainer that each individual should become more conscious of their food waste. By simply understanding the meaning of expiration dates or freezing products for future use, we can lessen both our carbon footprint and the amount of food wasted each day. Or better yet, that food can be rescued, inspected, and given to the thousands of South Florida families living with hunger.
While each shift was a mere three hours, as a team we managed to sort through an astonishing amount of cases. By the end of the process, the piles of food cases which initially towered to the roof were sorted through and organized into categories. Quantitatively speaking, my last volunteer shift resulted in the inspection of 18,000 pounds of food; this equates to 15,125 meals going out to the community. Through the volunteer process, I felt an immense gratitude to those working at Feeding South Florida each day, offering their time to helping end food insecurity. The dedication of Feeding South Florida’s workers and their gratitude to all their volunteers was projected the moment I stepped into the building, and I cannot wait to return for another shift.
What I gained the most through this experience was a new perspective in terms of my position in the world. While I can reach into my refrigerator and not think twice about what I take out, I should be conscious of the fact that many live with empty fridges and pantries. As I become more mindful of the foods I throw away due to a mere printed date, I ask all of you to consider whether or not it is truly inedible. And if you still wish to throw it out, consider donating it first. It may just be the difference between a child sleeping on an empty stomach or sleeping soundly with a full belly.
“RESCUE FOOD & DISTRIBUTE MEALS.” FEEDING SOUTH FLORIDA, https://feedingsouthflorida.org/who-we-are/how-we-work/rescuing-and-distributing-meals/.
Vatske, Sari. “New County Hunger Data Released – Map the Meal Gap 2019.” FEEDING SOUTH FLORIDA, 1 May 2019, https://feedingsouthflorida.org/2019-map-the-meal-gap-released/.
All photographs are taken by Jena Nassar unless stated otherwise.