The early beginnings of the Food Recovery Network at CBU were hatched in the Spring of 2014 when Anna Birg Mitchell (Biochemistry ’14), then a senior and a member of the Lasallian Fellows Class of 2014, attended the “Mid-South Farm to Table” sustainability conference. While at this conference, Anna heard about the national organization and shared the idea — of recovering perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from college campuses and the surrounding communities and donating it to people in need — with her friends and fellow students. That fall, a group of students — Michael MacMiller (Psychology ’15), Jonathan Mosley (Natural Sciences ‘16, Shanice Oliver (Marketing ’15, Lasallian Fellows Class of 2015), and Sara Swisher (English’ 16, Lasallian Fellows Class of 2016) — came together to bring the Food Recovery Network to life in at CBU.
Unfortunately, the Food Recovery Network at CBU was unable to continue its work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and eventually disbanded. “When COVID happened, everything got disrupted,” says Dr. Jacob Goessling, assistant professor of Literature and Languages and director of the Sustainability Studies program at CBU, who has worked to reestablish the recovery effort at CBU. “The folks at the National Food Recovery Network say it’s a huge issue, and they are trying to streamline the application process and re-engage everybody who had fallen out of contact since COVID. Since I’ve been here, I’ve talked to students and learned there was a lot of student interest in the issues of food waste and food insecurity. With that in mind, we put the idea of restarting the program at CBU out in the air.”
One the first people that Dr. Goessling contacted was Heidi Rupke, Food Rescue Coordinator at Clean Memphis, who serves the local nonprofit as a food rescue specialist and joined its ranks to help with Project Green Fork, a sustainability program that began working with local restaurants and the service industry and is now developing a sustainable food system for all Memphians by reducing food waste, connecting local partners, and socializing green dining practices. “If you start researching food waste, the biggest studies all come to roughly the same conclusion — that 30 to 40% of food that’s meant for human consumption is actually wasted, and very little of it is being recovered at this point,” Rupke explains.
“Currently, just under 8% of that is being rescued and donated. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates there are 5,000 tons of rescue-appropriate food in Memphis each year, some of which is already being rescued. I looked to set up relationships and support groups like CBU in getting their donations started and making sure they’re connected to a great partner. At CBU, you are fortunate that this is a program that existed in the past. So, there’s still some memory of it, and it’s not completely new.”
Dr. Goessling connected with a couple of students who have been very active in reviving the Food Recovery Network, Aldrin Muñoz (Civil Engineering ’25) and Naxhelt “Naxy” Sanchez (Management ’24).
“I unintentionally get involved,” Naxy says. “I went to a Sustainability Coalition meeting, and we were asked if we wanted to be involved in it as a volunteer opportunity. And then, once I got in and got all the information, I was like, yeah, we got this.”
“That’s exactly how it happened,” Aldrin agrees. “We were both there at the meeting and volunteered. And then Dr. Goessling reached out to us, and we took over a little bit.”
Although, as Rupke pointed out, there had been an active program at CBU previously, Aldrin says the initial challenge they faced was a lack of knowledge and resources. “We really did not have any information whatsoever.”
“There were no past students left to talk to,” Naxy says. “We didn’t have anything to go off of, no structure or road map from the past. So, we contacted Rhodes, because they still had a FRN project that’s now a little bigger and a little more established. So, we asked for some information. And then we just did a lot of research.”
“Once Naxy and Aldrin were on board, we had a meeting with Patrick Cook and Aramark,” Rupke recalls. “And your team at Aramark was very receptive to this student-led initiative. They were willing to talk about what they would do to get the football up the field and then let the students run with it.”
On a national level, Aramark Food Services is an U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion and is committed to reducing food waste in the U.S. by 50% by 2030 from its 2015 baseline. In addition, Aramark has been a member of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, an industry collaboration focused on reducing waste and finding ways to donate or recycle unavoidable food waste, for nearly a decade.
“Our goal is less waste and more impact,” says Patrick Cook, director of Aramark Food Services at CBU. “Food waste generated by our operations contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and this is an important opportunity to reduce our environmental impact and cut costs. Aramark’s efforts to reduce food waste and address food insecurity focus on prevention, recovery, and recycling, all in partnership with our customers and our CBU Food Recovery Network. Recovered food is prepared following food donation safety guidelines, including packaging and cooling to the proper temperature.”
“The safety standards are a very important thing to consider when collecting and donating food,” Dr. Goessling agrees. “There are protocols when dealing with it: Wash your hands, wear gloves, wear hairnets, use specific types of containers. The food has to be at a certain cooling point, and it must be transported within a certain amount of time to avoid spoilage. You also have to keep a log of the types of food and the amount or weight of it.”
“Yeah, I actually built a website that integrates the information into an Excel spreadsheet so we can keep up with everything,” Aldrin says. “You can log in and be able to see what groups you’re going to be part of, see your schedule, connect with members, and log information.”
“With the institutional-memory problem we faced after COVID interrupted the previous incarnation of our Food Recovery Network, this website will also hopefully prevent that from happening again and will keep the knowledge going as our current members graduate and new students volunteer,” Dr. Goessling adds.
Currently, the Food Recovery Network at CBU is working primarily with St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission and Mid-South Food Bank. “We’re also we’re going to be working with local churches and Catholic Charities, where we’ll have food drives and clothes drives,” Aldrin says.
“They have rescued more than 200 pounds so far, and they’re setting this up so that it is a sustainable practice,” Rupke says. “They figured out how many times a week they can rescue food, where they should go, and how to make it easy and workable for all the partners. They’re off and running, and I’m going to give them a gold star.”
Naxy and Aldrin say that their future goals for the network include getting more students involved, setting up field trips, and setting up a soup kitchen as part of the scheduling for students.