‘Can I have that?’

Lansing-area Food Rescue uses app, volunteers to help meet needs


If you are of a certain age, you may recall your parents admonishing you to eat (insert name of hated vegetable) while thinking about the starving children who would gladly eat (insert name of hated vegetable).

All jokes aside, food insecurity remains a hot topic, especially when it comes to how much is wasted. According to Feeding America, the U.S. squanders a breathtaking 80 million tons of food annually, equivalent to $444 billion in meals.                                                                                                        

Among those trying to flip that script are volunteers with the local outpost of Food Rescue US, a nonprofit that uses an app to connect farmers, grocery stores and restaurants with drivers and food banks to ensure food isn’t wasted.   

Across the Lansing region, volunteers are working to see food has the chance to go from trash to sustenance.

The effort has attracted people like Mary Fielding.

The East Lansing resident has been a volunteer with the local chapter of Food Rescue since last fall.

Fielding said she’s seen many positives in that time, starting with the diversion of thousands of pounds of food that “probably would have ended up in a landfill if it hadn’t been rescued.”

That food — including produce, meat, baked goods, dairy products, and eggs — has bolstered the resources, Fielding said, of many local agencies that serve those in need of food.

Meeting the people in charge of the receiving and hearing about the needs of the people they serve has been a “privilege for me,” Fielding said, but also an education.

“Receiving agencies are always very grateful for the donated food,” she continued.

“They are also forthright in telling us when they are not in need of the donated food on a particular day, so that we can deliver it to another agency that can use it.”

Fielding has only been directly involved in the recruitment of one agency, Lansing’s New Hope Community Center, which has signed on to receive donations.

It only takes Amy Roney about an hour to complete her weekly pick-up route, but the result of those 60 minutes far outweighs the time spent.

Roney, a Haslett resident, joined a volunteer group last summer at the Meridian Township Farmers Market.

Members collected produce from market vendors and visitors for food banks, keeping a running count on a sign at the twice-weekly market and featuring a benefiting food bank. By the end of summer 2023, Roney said they had collected more than 2,000 pounds of food.

Leaders Val Lafferty and Gabi Mayer then convened a meeting of interested volunteers, who readily embraced their proposal to join Food Rescue US. Volunteers soon began pick-ups and deliveries.

Roney has made Food Rescue a family affair, recruiting her husband, Barry, and their son, Sam, to take food from Whole Foods Market in East Lansing to Lansing’s First Presbyterian Church.

Besides family, Roney singled out Lafferty, Mayer, Sue Ziara, David Batten, “Mitch and ‘Brittany” and others from Whole Foods, Food Rescue US volunteers, Jim Donaldson and the First Presbyterian volunteers.

“It takes many people to make these rescues work,” she said.

Roney said she’s also picked up food from Okemos and Haslett schools and delivered it to Homeless Angels and the City Rescue Mission in Lansing.

“I love saving the food from being thrown away in the dump, where it will produce methane that contributes to global warming,” Roney said.

“This food is helping to feed the food insecure and unhoused population right here in our communities. I’m recently retired and have the time and ability to help out. It gives me great satisfaction knowing I’m helping the planet and my local community.”

Roney makes the run from Whole Foods to First Presbyterian each Sunday.

Whole Foods “donates to other food banks during the week,” Roney said, “but they didn’t have anyone who was able to pick up on the weekend. Whole Foods is happy to donate food that they would have to throw away.”

The food pantry volunteers at First Presbyterian are “very thankful and helpful” to receive and unload the donated food destined for those in need.

First Presbyterian’s pantry is open four days a week, and it’s a busy place.

Donaldson said the pantry is marking its 50th year, and need has meant growth — the kind that’s hard to keep up with.

While the church is part of the Greater Lansing Food Bank, which guarantees the availability of essentials, the donations from Whole Foods on Sundays and Target stores on Mondays mean a variety of fruits and veggies pantry clients wouldn’t otherwise see.

There are apples and oranges, but also limes, lemons, mangoes, kiwifruit, and bananas.

Pantry clients are pleased to see those kinds of items on the shelves. Their other emotion is disbelief.

“They ask us, ‘Can I have that?’” Donaldson said.



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