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  • Writer's pictureericjcarrig

How to use unserved food from catered events, buffets and cafeterias to feed families

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Solutions for the Underaffiliated had the pleasure talking with Flori Pate, co-founder of Food Connection, which has served over 500,000 meals to the food insecure in Asheville, North Carolina.

Demand for good food

  • About 10 percent of Americans meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition of food insecurity: lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.

  • That feels light.

    • For a family of three, the poverty line used to calculate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in federal fiscal year 2023 is $1,920 a month. That’s about $23,000 a year. If you earn more than 130 percent of the poverty line for a family of three, $29,940, you won’t qualify for food assistance.

    • Let’s say you have that family of three and earn $2,495 a month. Assume rent is $1,000 a month. That leaves $1,495. If you have a car payment, utilities bills, including phone and cable — any bills — where in the United States can you live on $1,495 a month?

  • A Feed America study found that when people need to spread their food budgets, 79% buy inexpensive and/or unhealthy food. That typically means they are high in fat, calories and sugar to keep you full.

    • That’s why people who are foo insecure are morel likely to have diabetes. The wrong food makes you sick.

    • Malnourished kids are morel likely to have asthma and anemia and to be hyper-active and aggressive.

Embarrassment of riches

  • 40% of food in The United States is wasted

    • The 100,000-person Rose Bowl can be filled twice daily with wasted food

    • $408 billion/year of food is wasted

  • Grocery stores hate empty shelves

  • We don’t want to buy spotty fruit and vegetables, so out it goes, even though it’s perfectly good.

  • Many think it is illegal to donate food. It’s not.

  • We send food to the dump where converts to methane gas, which helps warm the planet making the climate change … more storms, droughts and unseasonably high temperatures are the new norm.

The Food Connection gets prepared meals from catered events, university cafeteria, retirement communities, buffets, caterers, conference centers

  • They prepare more food than they use because they can’t run out of food at their events, but don’t know how much people are going to eat.

  • Guests can’t take leftovers because they don’t have refrigerators in their rooms or they are traveling, so the food will spoil.

  • The food preparers don’t want them to take the food anyway because they don’t want someone to get sick and blame the venue.

The experience

  • Food truck

  • Food Connection delivers it in meal form to people who don’t have enough to eat

    • Non-profits like the Salvation Army, Veterans Restoration, Western North Carolina Rescue Mission

    • Curbside pick-up in a local community on Saturday mornings,

    • After school programs

    • Churches

  • Hot, individual, pound to pound-and-a-half pound meals that include a protein, starch and vegetable

  • Menu, including at least one vegan option

  • Music to make it feel fun

  • Access to fresh food is a human right

    • People can just show up. They don’t have to prove eligibility — no paperwork.

    • The nicely dressed with decent cars eat. There is a reason they are there.

Food Connection Customers — 200 meals in 15 min minutes at curbside location

  • Seniors

  • Families

  • Single moms

  • Higher percentage of people of color

  • Apologetic people who never thought they’d need a free meal

  • Working people

    • Not getting paid enough to afford food because they can’t afford the cost of living

    • Inflation hits food prices

    • Care for extended family

    • Medical bills

    • Car accident

    • Kids eat a lot


  • Give away food

  • Advocate for food to go to someone who needs it.

  • Be mindful. The government makes it hard to for food-insecure people to be eligible for government programs. How can people afford good food when they can’t pay their own bills and get to the store?

  • Ask the potential food sources you visit all the time what they do with extra food, e.g. weddings, reunions, birthdays, buffets, other catered events.

  • Provide financial support to local groups distributing food to people who can’t afford decent meals

  • Identify distribution points, churches, community centers and elsewhere and ask them to look for groups like food connection to deliver food to them

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