The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation has added another ministry to their services to continue to help those in need.
The Table Food Rescue has partnered with a number of local businesses including grocery stores like Bullock’s Your Independent, bakeries, restaurants, and other stores to rescue food they can no longer sell or use.
“There is so much food that is thrown away that can be used, so it’s the whole principle of trying to use what we have in our community,” said Marta Bonelli, The Table’s kitchen and food rescue coordinator. “We’ve approached some local businesses and they’ve been very generous, Huntsville as you know is such a wonderful community that everybody wanted to help.”
Bonelli is passionate about food rescue.
“I’m from Italy and Europe has been at the forefront of food rescue and food waste,” she said. “In 2016, France became the first country to ban grocery stores from throwing out food and Italy followed. They had to find a way and have systems in place to donate food that is perfectly fine, we call it imperfect food. So bananas that may be a little too ripe or apples that have a little blemish, or vegetables that are past their peak but still perfectly fine,” said Bonelli. “We have a wonderful team of volunteers that pick up the food and a wonderful team that transforms the food. If we have too many ripe bananas we make banana bread. If veggies are fine to eat but they need to be cut up, then we make soup. We spend a lot of time processing.”
Bonelli said some of the food comes from the stores if they’re no longer carrying that product or the items are a few days past the best before date but are still edible.
“It’s a wonderful system. They help us dramatically and food isn’t wasted,” said Bonelli, noting she’s big on statistics. “In Canada 63 per cent of food we throw away could actually be eaten; in an average household in Canada that’s 140 kg of food wasted every year. So the environmental impact is massive as well. Not only are we feeding our own people and making wonderful meals, we’re having an impact on the environment as well.”
Those statistics come from 2017 research conducted by the National Zero Waste Council.
Bonelli said those involved with the food rescue are very creative when it comes to using the food they receive.
“We have a bakery that donates day old bread, if we have too much bread we’ll make bread pudding and we can stretch the donations. With the vegetables we can make a broth and then we can use it as a base for other foods, it’s wonderful.”
The rescued food is collected by volunteers with The Table and is used either in The Table’s food bank or community kitchen.
“Whenever we pick up the food we look at everything that comes in and if it’s good enough to be put on the shelf (produce) that’s what we’ll do. Our priority is the food bank. Our guests are happy to have fruit and vegetables. If it can’t go on the shelf we take it to the kitchen and make soups or stirfry or smoothies,” said Bonelli.
The Table Food Bank currently serves about 100 meals on Mondays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 4:30 for guests to take home to their families, which is triple the amount prior to COVID-19.
“It’s a really big operation. We couldn’t do this without the volunteers and our businesses who are very kind and have chosen to help us out,” said Bonelli. “We’re fortunate to have a beautiful commercial kitchen that is up to health standards and allows us to do this.”
Guests at The Table are now able to enjoy fresh food that wasn’t as readily available previously. “Now that we have an established food rescue program, we’re able to have a lot more fresh, nutritious food for our guests. Having access to those items at no cost is really helping out. Everything is very important but to be able to have fruit, vegetables and fresh milk is wonderful.”
With the food rescue, volunteers at The Table use as much of it as they can and what they can’t use gets donated once more.
“We cut and chop the vegetables and some of the parts that aren’t usable need to be discarded. We’ve partnered with a couple local pig farms and they come and pick up what we discard,” said Bonelli. “It’s a wonderful system, whatever we cannot use we save, all the peelings, everything, for the pig farmers. We’re saving as much as we can and we’re helping the environment and our guests. It’s a win all around. Everybody should be doing this. I’m hoping more towns and cities will do this.”
In a year that’s been challenging for many residents the financial benefits have also helped The Table.
“The Table is grateful to our food rescue partners for helping to keep our food costs down,” said Heather Cassie, CEO of the Table Soup Kitchen Foundation. “Our food rescue ministry has made a big impact on our budget in 2020.”
The Table has also partnered with Second Harvest and Feed It Forward.
Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization that supports the Table, among over 1,000 other social programs, with a focus on protein, dairy and produce.
Feed It Forward is another food rescue resource, based out of Toronto, and encourages organizations to replicate their model in their own communities.
“On a personal level we all have a responsibility to our planet and our resources, before you throw out the food from your fridge really look at it and think about it and see if there’s something you can do with it,” said Bonelli. “As shoppers we have the power of choice. Shop local as much as you can because we couldn’t do this without our businesses in town that support us and our community. We have a lot of vulnerable people in Huntsville and because of our community we’re able to help and feed them.”
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