Each Tuesday and Friday, a handful of students retrieve donated food from various dining locations throughout Oberlin. Depending on availability, the students might make multiple stops for meals that are so vital to those families considered to be “food insecure”—or lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food—in Oberlin and Lorain County.
These students are part of Oberlin Food Rescue, a service that transports donated food from various locations in the community and delivers it to Oberlin Community Services (OCS). OCS is a nonprofit organization that provides direct assistance to individuals in Oberlin, New Russia Township, and Southern Lorain County, and the food pantry is one of its most used resources.
Oberlin Food Rescue is not a chartered student organization, but it is a group that is closely linked to the campus’ Resource Conservation Team (RCT). Three Oberlin Food Rescue members, including second-year Kelly McCarthy and fourth years Morgan Stein and Nora Cooper, also work for the RCT to fulfill its goal of reducing campus waste and creating sustainable systems.
Throughout the year, these students visit restaurants such as Pizza Hut, whose staff freeze meals for donation, and Stevenson Dining Hall. There, Stevenson chefs flash-freeze fully prepared meals that would have otherwise gone to waste and give it to Oberlin Food Rescue to deliver to Oberlin Community Services.
For Oberlin Community Services’ food program coordinator Hannah Rosenberg, receiving prepared food, such as the meals that come from Stevenson Dining Hall, is vital. “There is a really unfortunate hole in the pantry market. Our clients can leave with raw ingredients, such as produce and pasta, but many of our clients are homeless, don’t have adequate equipment to prepare the food, or need something quick so they don’t go hungry. There is a need for these prepared meals,” says Rosenberg. “Oberlin Food Rescue has the ability to fill this hole.”
The college’s participation in the donation program began during the 2015-2016 academic year, when Oberlin Food Rescue member and fourth-year Jen Krakower spearheaded an initiative with her advisor to make use of surplus food in the dining hall.
Environmental studies major Kelly McCarthy became involved in Oberlin Food Rescue due to her personal interest in food systems. But there was another motivating element in her participation. “I think it’s really cool when the college can have a positive relationship with the community. Oberlin Community Services does really great work serving the community, and I thought it was a great way for the college to support their efforts.”
While the college partners with OCS by donating food through Food Rescue, it also collaborates with OCS on its end-of-year Dorm Food Rescue program.
This spring, OCS coordinated with the college to place cardboard collection boxes in every residence hall and co-op house. This allowed students who were moving out to easily donate any unwanted food to the food pantry before the conclusion of the academic year.
“The need here is great,” says Rosenberg. “Poverty in Oberlin is 21 percent, and 53 percent of those in the school district qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Food rescue is important because there is so much waste and so many who are hungry.”