Photo by Debra S. Kaplan
Mike Shambaugh-Miller, Executive Director of Produce From the Heart, delivers rescued food from farmer's markets and Nebraska fields to a local food pantry.
America is known as the land of excess, and the title rings especially true when it comes to our bountiful supply of nutrient-dense, freshly grown and pasture-raised foods. Such care is taken with each tender sprout, every calf born, knowing it will one day feed a hungry child and nurture a growing family.
Why, then, are one in five children in the greater Omaha area going to bed hungry at night?
The answer isn’t that there’s not enough food to go around, it’s that there is so much of it that it ends up in landfills instead of the hungry bellies it was intended for. A bruise or a blemish renders fruit unsellable, a few hours too long on the shelf and it’s plucked and tossed, while mislabeling or unattractive marbling sends a side of beef to the trash.
This tragic waste leads to a rise in the genetic modification of food. Scientists work hard to spawn new breeds of produce, not for superior flavor or nutrient density, but for portability and a longer shelf life. Meats and cheeses are processed beyond molecular recognition to ensure uniformity and longevity. This work comes at a steep price — not only are these foods robbed of both their health benefits and naturally delicious taste, but the cost of these frankenfoods is constantly climbing.
Several area perishable food rescues are on a mission to end waste, skyrocketing food prices, and hunger. The driving forces behind these nonprofits and organizations are not bored millionaires trying to soothe a guilty conscience, but people who are truly passionate about the plight of the poor. The leaders of this movement have full time jobs and families, and a keen understanding of what hunger does to a person’s sense of desperation. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or whether you’re going to be able to feed your children tomorrow, it’s difficult to see far enough into the future to find a way out.
A Saving Grace
Approximately half of Nebraska’s hungry are, ironically, clinically overweight or obese. This is owing in great part to the fact that what is donated in reliable amounts to food pantries and soup kitchens is comprised mostly of highly processed canned and boxed foods, sugary cereals, and nutrient-void meal-helpers like macaroni and cheese. Saving Grace perishable food rescue and delivery brings donated perishable foods to local nonprofits, providing hungry families with a dependable source of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains.
In July of this year after only 34 months of food rescue efforts, Saving Grace delivered its one millionth pound of rescued food. That is one million meals inside the bellies of hungry families, offering the leg up they need to create a sustainably better future for themselves. One million pounds of perfectly delicious and healthy food heading for the landfill, rerouted to those who needed it most.
What You Can Do
While this effort has fed thousands and thousands of hungry people, it doesn’t solve the problem of food waste driving up food costs. And delivering this food is a huge financial burden on non-profits. To solve the problem where is starts, Saving Grace wants you to take the pledge to end food waste. Go to savinggracefoodrescue.org and select the “Sign the Pledge” button to get started in helping to end food waste in your home.
Produce From the Heart
Any afternoon drive just outside of the city limits in any direction will have you traveling beside lush farms, expanses of grains and vegetables, orchards and patches of fruit trees. Farmers plant and harvest these fields with a great deal of care, and knowing their customers, they harvest almost exclusively the most attractive of their bounty.
That leaves thousands of pounds of healthy, edible food left behind. Eventually this food is picked over by wildlife, and what’s left rots where it lies in lending nutrients to the soil for next year’s crop. But the amounts of food wasted are far beyond what even the rich soil is capable of consuming. Produce From the Heart’s goal is to bring you one step closer to your food, help the farmers clean up their hard-labored land, and end hunger in a single afternoon of volunteering in the beautiful Nebraska sun.
What You Can Do
The organization employs volunteers for as much or as little time as they like, and in as little as two hours, you can impact more than 750 people. PFTH sends its volunteers to farmer’s markets, local farms, and community gardens to collect excess and unwanted produce, then delivers it to food banks and soup kitchens. Organize your church members, school groups, sports teams or scouting group. Or try a philanthropic date night to head out and help the hungry Have a van or truck? Transportation costs are the biggest threat to these nonprofits efforts, so volunteer to deliver the rescued food. Learn more at producefromtheheart.org.
Hunger Free Heartland
Hunger Free Heartland knows that there is a huge disconnect between the rich, the comfortable, and the food-insecure. It’s easy to let our problems overwhelm us, and realizing after months of saving that you still can’t afford the family vacation you’ve been planning, a newer car, or upgrading the big-screen can leave you feeling like success has eluded you. HFH offers a new perspective with directives like “Try it Tuesdays,” where they ask us to put ourselves in the shoes of a SNAP recipient by spending only $4 on an entire day’s food. To celebrate Hunger Action Month in September, Hunger Free Heartland offered a daily challenge to bring us closer to understanding the impact of hunger in our neighborhood. Try putting water on your cereal to understand that milk is a luxury item in many Nebraska homes. Set an empty plate at the table to remember those in our community who will be going without. Raid your pantries for spare items for those who are unable to make ends meet this month.
Hunger Free Heartland also understands that feeding the hungry is actually a minor step in ending food insecurity. Instead, their mission is to advocate, lead change and end the cycle of poverty and hunger. Their poverty-ending initiatives aim to change the environment of those most affected by food insecurity through education, collaboration and partnership with policy changers and members of the community.
What You Can Do
Get involved! Sign up for Hunger Free Heartland’s newsletters to stay up to date on events and opportunities to help out. Write letters to policy makers demanding better resources for our working poor. Offer to volunteer at a local school in helping to provide nutritious meals for kids who may not have access to them at home. Keep your eyes and ears open during weekends, holidays, and school breaks. Children who rely on these programs for two meals a day are often going hungry when class is dismissed and on weekends. A snow day of sledding for one child is a day without food for another. Head to hungerfreeheartland.org/get-involved to learn more about opportunities to lend a hand!
Hunger is everyone’s problem. Let’s work together to find sustainable solutions!
If you or someone you know is suffering from food insecurity, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-866-8-HAMBRE para Español Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.