Failed effort brings attention to food recovery shortfall in community

Adela Talbot // Western News

When Western Nursing students Agata Pawlowski and Steven Trudell started their community outreach placement at London Hospitality Services, they quickly learned the soup kitchen was not getting enough fruits and vegetables to feed its patrons.

An ultimately failed effort to bring healthy food to the community’s most needy people shined a light on the issue that remains a beacon for those who want to do something to help.

When Western Nursing students Agata Pawlowski and Steven Trudell started their community outreach placement at London Hospitality Services, they quickly learned the soup kitchen was not getting enough fruits and vegetables to feed its patrons. They also noticed that supermarkets were throwing away perfectly good food that had exceeded its shelf life. It was food that could have been used to feed people.

Their idea was to generate a daily supply of fruits and vegetables, Trudell said.

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As part of their studies, Pawlowski and Trudell were paired with London Hospitality Services as part of a community outreach assignment.

London Hospitality Services is a community soup kitchen on Dundas Street just east of Adelaide Street. They spent four hours a week, for a total of 88 hours, working on a project to promote healthier living within the London community.

They called it ‘Feed People, Not Dumpsters.’

The pair conducted a small survey on the people eating at the soup kitchen, and learned only 12 of 32 people surveyed that day had eaten at least one serving of fruits or vegetables.

“If one day there were a bunch of bananas, for example, the first 15 people through the door will get one and the rest don’t,” Pawlowski said.

Pawlowski and Trudell discovered most of the people eating at the soup kitchen had diets that consisted primarily of carbohydrates. Also, canned foods, the common currency in soup kitchens, are high in sodium and preservatives and can lead to future health problems, Pawlowski said.

With a small budget provided by the Sisters of St. Joseph, London Hospitality Services can’t always afford to buy fresh food, said Bill Payne, director.

“Grocery stores are throwing out tons of stuff every day. You’ve seen those bananas; they have a few brown spots and some places are throwing them out,” said Payne, whose agency serves up to 400 people a day. “I felt fruits and vegetables would go a long way.”

Pawlowski and Trudell proposed their plan to the local grocery stores.

Yet, managers were hesitant. They were concerned about the liability of donating food that was not at its best, Pawlowski said. But, according to the Donation of Food Act, 1994, a person who donates food is absolved of all liability if that person acted in good faith.

“We actually brought with us the Donation of Food Act just to show them. We were surprised at how many managers hadn’t even heard of the act before,” Trudell said.

Pawlowski and Trudell knew that Toronto and Vancouver were the only two cities that have effective food recovery programs in place to help feed the poor. They hoped to make that three.

In the end, they were unable to secure any donors.

Pawlowski, and Trudell wrote a letter to the editor of the London Free Press detailing their efforts.

“That prompted a lot of attention,” Pawlowski said. “I’ve been back to the soup kitchen a couple times in August and a lot of people were just coming and dropping things off, like a bag of peas.”

Even though Feed People, Not Dumpsters did not achieve its ultimate goal, Pawlowski and Trudell remain optimistic.

“We would just love to see it materialize into something,” they said, “and it certainly has in small steps.”