Food Recovery Program Helps Feed Hungry Neighbors

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Siemong Wang, director of Safety Net at the Covenant Presbyterian Church on Madison Avenue, says his social service agency sees plenty of needy – often desperate – people. “These are people who fall through the cracks,” he says. He estimates Safety Net serves between 250 and 300 people each month with everything from clothing and emergency rent, to bus fare, emergency utility payments and even help obtaining identification for people who find themselves homeless and unable to deal with PennDOT requirements. Safety Net also runs a busy food pantry, which is open four days a week to individuals and families in crisis.

A unique volunteer program, E.F.F.O.R.T. or Excess Food For Others Recovery Team, was established and run by University of Scranton students.  The program has helped Safety Net and other agencies feed their hungry neighbors. Mr. Wang says he is deeply grateful and touched by the students' generosity.

“I understand these students go out at 9, 10 o'clock at night to pick up the left-over food from Price Chopper or Panera Bread,” Mr. Wang said. “It is so nice of them. E.F.F.O.R.T. is a blessing. It really benefits needy families.”

Safety Net gets deliveries twice a week of bakery items that Price Chopper and Panera Bread did not sell and would otherwise discard. The University students also drop off the collected breads, rolls and treats to the Community Intervention Center on Wyoming Avenue; Friends of the Poor; the United Neighborhood Centers and the food pantry at St.Paul's/St. Clare's (which University students also help to run), among others.

Patricia (Pat) Vaccaro, director of the University's Community Outreach Office, says the program began in 2008 and sprung from students' concern over food being wasted in the University's cafeteria. “The kids kept meeting and talking,” she says. “They asked to be called whenever the university had an event and there was food left over.” From there, the students reached out to Price Chopper and Panera Bread, both of which have programs to donate their excess, unpurchased food.

Ms. Vaccaro says there are about 40 student volunteers who help run E.F.F.O.R.T. Their  dedication is impressive, she says. “Volunteers are on call after University or community events. Some have to drive around at night to pick up. Then the food comes to us in big boxes, so we have students who bag and pack it for delivery. Then there are those who actually take it to the various agencies.”

According to Ms. Vaccaro, Panera Bread alone has donated $30,000 worth of food to E.F.F.O.R.T. All those pricey croissants and pastries would usually be well beyond the financial means of people served by Safety Net, but thanks to E.F.F.O.R.T., they are now part of their daily bread.