Whether you describe it as a national disgrace or a preventable human tragedy, each year approximately 96 billion pounds of food are thrown away in this country, food that could easily feed the millions of Americans who go hungry every day.
But in the coming weeks, the Missoula Food Bank will be able to rescue a much larger portion of the food that would otherwise end up in Missoula’s landfill, and make it available to their clients and other emergency food providers. Thanks to a grant from the United Parcel Service Foundation, the Missoula Food Bank has purchased a food packaging machine that will allow their volunteers to vacuum-pack food donated from Missoula-area restaurants and institutions, and then freeze it into ready-to-eat meals for future use.
According to Jennifer Twyman, food recovery coordinator for The Missoula Food Bank, in the past many restaurants were reluctant to donate their leftover food, for fear of exposing themselves to liability in the event that someone got sick on it. However, with the passage of the federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, food donors like restaurants, cafeterias, caterers and other individuals are now protected from that liability, provided they handle their food properly and act in good faith.
Twyman emphasizes that all the food the Missoula Food Bank receives is perfectly safe but would otherwise be discarded because either too much of it was prepared, or it has minor cosmetic defects that make it more difficult to sell.
“They’ve become a lot stricter about how their food appears,” says Twyman, about some restaurants. “We received eight pumpkin pies because they had a crack in them.”
Twyman says that the new food packaging machine will be able to process about eight meals per minute, which volunteers will then freeze for later distribution, or deliver to other emergency food providers in the region, such as the Poverello Center, the Salvation Army, Head Start, the Boys & Girls Club, and so on. Currently, the Missoula Food Bank receives approximately 500 pounds of perishable food each week from the University of Montana, but will soon be able to handle much more.
This new machine couldn’t come at a better time, says Twyman. Ever since the passage of welfare reform in 1996, food banks and pantries statewide have experienced a dramatic rise in both the number of clients they serve and the number of visits those people make. Since 1998, the number of visits to the Missoula Food Bank has increased by nearly 700 (to about 19,700) over this time last year.