Eat It – Part Three
This is the third and last segment of my post about eating and how we can make a difference by eating. The first part centered around how we can help ourselves, be our own hero in our own lives by eating responsibility. The second featured a wonderful organization called Dining for Women. Today, we are going back to college and focusing on a college pre-med student.
Columnist Jillian Kramer wrote about today’s woman making a difference in a January issue of Food and Wine Magazine. “Fourteen-year-old Maria Rose Belding skirted past the block-deep line of hungry people, and launched another box filled to the brim with expired macaroni-and-cheese into the dumpster. It wasn’t the first time she’d tossed food into the trash at this particular food pantry—Belding had begun volunteering at the Pella, Indiana location when she was just 5-years-old—but this time was different: this time, she was really, really, really angry. “I remember really thinking: how have we not done better than this?” [Belding explained to Food & Wine writer.] “And it was really frustrating because it was very clear there wasn’t someone to be mad at—it didn’t appear that someone had screwed up and that’s why we were in this situation. The donor who gave us all of that macaroni-and-cheese had done so out of the very best of intentions. The food pantry director had worked incredibly hard trying to move it and place it within other communities and organizations. The volunteers had done everything they could do. I was so angry, but there wasn’t an easy person to get mad at.”
The fourteen-year-old knew there were other hungry people who would have jumped at the chance to eat the food being discarded. She wondered at the lack of communication between food pantries serving this demographic and was frustrated by it. Kramer’s article continues: “The tech-savvy teen figured there had to be some sort of online communication system on which food pantries could communicate with one another about their stock—a system that her local pantry simply had to sign up for. She searched and searched—and found nothing.
“I thought it was real because I would watch [the pantry director]—who is a saint of the woman—make so many phone calls to landlines, and she would get calls back weeks later to try to move this macaroni-and-cheese,” recalls Belding. “It was so incredibly inefficient, and I remember standing there going, but we have the Internet. But we have the Internet.” Five years later a fellow college student Grant Nelson, Belding helped her create MEANS, a nonprofit communications platform for emergency food providers and donors.
After three years, MEANS has reached people in 49 U.S. states and territories, and boasts some 3,000 users and partner organizations. The organization has recovered 1.6 million pounds of food, food that has reached hungry people instead of over-crowded dumpsters headed for the garbage dump. Let those numbers sink in and think about how they have impacted living, breathing people and crime statistics.
“We get everything from fresh vegetables to 5,000 pounds of pizza sauce in individual one-ounce packets,” Belding says. “There are so many stories where you just go: what? How did this happen? But we are so grateful that it ends up with us [MEANS] and more importantly, the people who need it.” They even had a donation of 42,000 pounds of milk that MEANS staff had to help relocate. They were successful and the milk went to grateful recipients.
Quoting again from Jillian Kramer’s article: “Belding, now 22, runs the organization full-time—while attending American University to one day become a doctor. Her staff is also impressively young: “We are 16 to 25 [years old], we’re from a host of different backgrounds and gender identities and races and religions and socio-economic backgrounds,” says Belding. “But one of the things that we all have in common is the same kind of sense of … a collective dumbfounding that hunger is still such a prevalent problem and how we have so much food waste, when this is so, so solvable.” If you are interested in joining MEANS—or know someone else who is—you can visit the program on its website, call the staff at 202-449-1507, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Pentecost is a season during which the ordinary can become extraordinary. As I mentioned in Part One, one of the most ordinary things many people do is eat and it benefits everyone when we turn that ordinary meal into something extraordinary. Maria Belding and her staff, like the members of Dinging for Women we discussed in Part Two of this blog post are using food to offer a hand up, not just a hand out. Life is all about making choices and you can turn your ordinary meal into a super-charged extraordinary gift to your health by making wise choices and then turning those choices into effective actions. That will make you our hero for tomorrow!