Restaurant leftovers, volunteers help feed a need in Southland
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org June 21, 2012 9:46PM
Jennie Nebor, of Mokena, packs up leftover bakery items at Panera Bread in Frankfort for donation to the Frankfort Township Food Pantry after closing for the evening Thursday, June 7, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Food for more than thought
Here’s a look at what some other local food businesses do with leftovers:
Wolf’s Bakery, 3241 W. 95th St., Evergreen Park; (708) 422-7429; wolfsbakery.net. Leftovers go to Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Mercy Mission on Chicago’s West Side, co-owner Pam Lyon said. Volunteers regularly come in and pick up the pastries, breads and doughnuts.
Jack & Pat’s Old Fashioned Meat Market, 10717 Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge; (708) 636-3437. “We have no trouble with meat sales. We’ve been blessed. We buy boxed beef. It stays good for five to six weeks, as long as you don’t open the package. Once opened, we have a week to sell it,” company president John Powers said. On the rare occasion that they do have leftover steaks, the surplus is divided among family members and taken home to be grilled.
Orland Park Meat Market & Deli, 9105 W. 151st St., Orland Park; (708) 403-0900. Any extras go to employees.
Tuzik’s Bakery, 4955 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn; (708) 422-0099. Owner Ted Tuzik said his shop donates leftover goods to various churches, schools and Scout troops through fundraisers. “We’ve done that for a long time, but the last five years, it’s been bigger than ever,” he said.
Updated: July 23, 2012 6:01AM
At a few minutes before 10 p.m. on a Thursday, Nella Piccolin’s PT Cruiser pulls up to the Panera Bread in Frankfort.
Thursday is Piccolin’s night to pick up the cafe’s leftover baked goods so they can be handed out to hungry people the next day. She and her husband, E.J. Dal Bello, have been making the voluntary weekly run since the store at 11069 W. Lincoln Highway opened eight years ago.
“We never miss,” said Piccolin, of Frankfort. “It’s not fun on a cold night in January, but we still show up.”
On this night, there are five boxes of goodies that will be delivered to the Frankfort Township Food Pantry.
Five boxes here, five boxes there, donated by private businesses or individuals, really adds up when it comes to feeding the hungry both in the Southland and statewide, officials say.
According to the Illinois Commission to End Hunger’s 2012 report — its first since the Legislature created the commission in 2010 — private programs are essential to helping feed the needy because 42 percent of “food insecure” individuals statewide do not qualify for federal nutrition programs.
The report said 1.8 million Illinoisans — nearly 15 percent of the population — face hunger. That includes 745,000 children, or 23.3 percent of the state’s children.
Food banks stepped up in 2010, the year studied in the report, with Feeding Illinois’ eight food banks distributing 127 million pounds of food to an estimated 1.4 million people in Illinois, the report said. That represented a 17 percent increase over the previous year and 73 percent increase over three years.
The report also said 65 percent of food pantries are completely volunteer run, so it takes people like Piccolin doing things like driving to Panera Bread to make it work.
“Sometimes, there’s just a couple of bags; other times, we get big boxes,” Piccolin said.
It’s all good, she said. Few leftovers means the cafe had a good business day; lots of extras mean the hungry will get a special treat.
Panera’s Operation Dough-Nation Program was founded in 1992 “to formalize our commitment to community involvement,” its website states.
The Frankfort location has an agreement with several nonprofits, each arranging to pick up the leftovers on a designated night of the week. Recipients include St. Jude Parish in New Lenox, Guardian Angels Community Services in Joliet, and the Manteno food pantry.
“This is just another way Panera wants to be involved in the community,” said Jason Tanty, assistant manager of the Frankfort store.
Anything that has been sliced or handled does not get donated, Tanty said. Otherwise, everything goes.
Hard as they may try, it’s a daily challenge for bakeries, restaurants and cafes to predict how much food will be unsold come closing time. Much depends on foot traffic, all of which can be affected by almost anything, including weather, activities at nearby schools, even TV programming.
Increasingly, food vendors are choosing to donate the baked goods and other perishables to food pantries, churches and charities nearby. In most cases, they rely on community volunteers such as Piccolin and Dal Bello to make the program work.
Many eateries work with Tennessee-based Food Donation Connection, which pairs donors with recipients in their area.
Since 1992, Food Donation Connection has coordinated the donation of more than 230 million pounds of food from food service providers in the United States and Canada. Last year, 13,880 restaurants donated 35 million pounds of food to 7,908 agencies.
Food Donation Connection participants include Darden Restaurants, which includes Olive Garden and Red Lobster; as well as Yum! Brands, which includes KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell; and Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Connection provides storage safety and quick transportation tips to donors.
Donating businesses also are eligible for tax benefits, but participants say they do it more because it is the compassionate thing to do.
“Why throw away food that is perfectly good to eat?” Tanty said.
Instead of becoming waste, much of it becomes a meal or treat for the hungry.
To receive food through the Food Donation Connection, recipients must carry a 501(c)(3) designation.
Last year, Chipotle donated 1.5 million pounds of food to local nonprofits, including the Rich Township and Frankfort Township food pantries, and Together We Cope in Tinley Park, which also receives food donations from Pizza Hut and Olive Garden.
“Our clients love getting a pizza and the occasional scone in their grocery bag,” Together We Cope spokeswoman Marge Seltzner said. “It provides something special they wouldn’t get in the course of other food donations.”