Archive for : Food Justice

Repair the World People: Ken Regal of Just Harvest

These days, food justice is at the forefront of American consciousness. But back in the mid-1980s, years if not decades ahead of its time, Just Harvest pioneered a dynamic anti-hunger organization in Pittsburgh. By linking local poverty with global food challenges – they are talking about food deserts before it was even a term – and combining holistic direct service with education and advocacy, they have become one of the country’s most important food justice organizations.

Over the past 30 years, Just Harvest has stayed true to its core principles that food is a fundamental right and that all people – regardless of their background or circumstances – are entitled to “dignity, rights, and a voice in the policies that affect them.” At the ground level, they help connect low income families to public services like food stamps and school meals, and help foster increased access to healthy, fresh foods within underserved neighborhoods. They also are a resource for individuals and families who need subsidized help with income tax preparation.

On the advocacy level, they lobby and educate on these same issues – childhood hunger, a compassionate approach to benefits, and healthy food access. “Some people see us as mostly an organization that directly helps low income people,” said co-founder and Executive Director, Ken Regal. “But our roots are in policy.”
Read more

Repair the World People: Rebecca Mather

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet Rebecca Mather, who incorporates Repair the World materials into her work as Social Justice Coordinator at Texas Hillel. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

Every Friday night, Jewish students gather at Texas Hillel at the University of Texas, Austin for Shabbat services. But in addition to the Reform, Conservative, and traditional minyanim (prayer gatherings) one might expect, some students opt for a different sort of gathering: a conversation about social justice.

Launched by Texas Hillel staffer, Rebecca Mather, the conversations cover everything from unpacking the Black Lives Matter movement to exploring Judaism’s relationship with water as a starting point to discuss the situations in Flint or at Standing Rock.
Read more

Repair the World People: Horace Bradley

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet volunteer extraordinaire, Horace Bradley. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

Choosing to volunteer is, when you really think about it, pretty heroic. We’re all busy folks – with school, with work, with family obligations, with…life. So the act of purposefully carving out the time to help someone else, or to help a whole community or the planet is pretty much worthy of a standing ovation.

One of the things we strive for at Repair the World is to create meaningful volunteer opportunities that let everyday people (that’s all of us) become everyday heroes. We have a lot of everyday heroes who volunteer in our partner cities, but Horace Bradley is one of the most dedicated.

By day, Bradley works as a customer service agent at Target. But in his spare time over the last two years, he has volunteered regularly with Philly Farm Crew – urban farm/garden volunteer workdays which we run in partnership with the Jewish Farm School. During Farm Crew days, volunteers get their hands dirty in the soil, doing work on vacant lot gardens and urban farms around Philadelphia.

Farming is labor-intensive work that requires persistence and commitment throughout the growing season. Without volunteers like Bradley, the work of planting and harvesting vegetables, weeding the gardens, building a greenhouse, and constructing a Cobb oven (all things done during Philly Farm Crew days) simply wouldn’t happen. “Farming is a great way to commune with nature and with others,” Bradley said.

In addition to the Farm Crew, Bradley has been involved with Repair the World in a variety of other ways – baking loaves of bread with Challah for Hunger, sorting books at a public school library, and packing food for people in need. He also joined one of Repair the World’s alternative break programs in Detroit. “It was my first time volunteering so far away from home,” he said. During the trip, he and the other volunteers boarded up abandoned homes.

So what inspires someone like Bradley to make such a deep and lasting commitment to volunteering – to get bitten by the service bug? Service is a two-way street. When done well and thoughtfully, service work benefits a community in need in innumerable ways. But it also. “Repair the world has changed aspects of my life,” Bradley said. “I think about food differently thanks to Philly Farm Crew, and I’m more outgoing now. But the most rewarding aspect is just being there, helping others.”

Check out the cute video Bradley made about his experience volunteering with the Philly Farm Crew.

Repair Interview: Leah Lizarondo of 412 Food Rescue

From the vegetables that rot in our crisper drawers before we cook them, to the uneaten sandwiches that get tossed at a coffee shop at the end of the day, Americans waste a lot of food – nearly 40 percent of the total food supply. Meanwhile 1 in 6 people do not know where their next meal is coming from. Those numbers did not add up to Leah Lizarondo and Gisele Fetterman, so they decided to do something about it in their home city of Pittsburgh.

Their organization, 412 Food Rescue, works to recover un-sellable but perfectly good food from retailers, restaurants, caterers, and universities (among other places) and deliver it to organizations that help to feed people in need. Meanwhile, they empower nearly 1,000 volunteers to make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Repair the World’s Pittsburgh Fellows have partnered closely with 412 Food Rescue since its founding. Now, we are excited to share their work with you. Here, co-founder Leah Lizarondo (pictured at right, with Repair the World Fellows Max and Lydia) talks about creating the “Uber for food rescue,” why ugly vegetables are the next frontier of closing the food gap, and the role that faith communities can play in advancing food justice.

What was the inspiration behind 412 Food Rescue?
We started in direct response to the disconnect that we as a society waste 40 percent of the food supply while 1/6 people go hungry. We work on the retail end of the supply chain, where surplus happens on a daily basis. In aggregate, the food wasted by grocery stores, restaurants, universities, coffee shops, and other retail locations represents the largest source of surplus food aside from our own homes. We partner with the retail locations to pick up their surplus and match the food available to non-profits that serve people who are food insecure.

Right now in Pittsburgh we partner with 150 retailers and 200 non-profits, and have 900 volunteers signed up. In our second year of operation this year, we will rescue 1 million pounds of food.

How do you coordinate the food rescues to make sure they are getting to the right place?
We work dynamically to match every food recovery to the right place and make sure the food is useful to the populations the organization serves. We don’t just drop off food without finding out from our partners if its an appropriate delivery. For example, if we recover 2 dozen bagels from a bagel shop, we are not going to drop those off at a housing facility that serves 200 people. Instead, we might drop them off at a shelter that serves 12 people. We are working on creating an intelligent algorithm that will do this matching for us. And in a couple of weeks, we will be releasing an app that coordinates our volunteers by sending them notifications of food rescue opportunities near them.

Tell me about the Ugly CSA.
The Ugly CSA is another one of our programs that tries to tackle food waste at the farm level. About 20% of food waste happens at the farm and manufacturing level. As a society we have these cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables that aren’t realistic, and lot of the produce that is grown at farms is discarded because it doesn’t match those standards. We created a new market for farmers to sell their “ugly” produce at a discount through CSA shares. We launched this past summer with a local farm alliance and sold 40 shares, and plan to scale it up this year.

What are different ways that volunteers get involved in your work?
95% of our volunteer force is dedicated to food recovery. People can sign up to be a “food rescue hero,” which means they pick up surplus food and deliver it to one of our non-profit partners. They are basically like an Uber for food rescue. We have a partnership with Zipcar, which allows volunteers to get a car for an hour for free if they’re doing a food rescue.

Another way volunteers get involved is through our Hidden Harvest program, which just launched this fall. Volunteers help to glean unpicked fruit from private and city trees around Pittsburgh. This fall, volunteers harvested 1,500 pounds of fruit that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Can you share a story of 412 Food Rescue’s impact?
Because we are a nontraditional organization, we can partner with non profits that might not specifically be hunger organizations, but that serve populations that are food insecure. One of those organizations is the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh. We are the first providers to bring food directly to their residencies. Because of the work we’re doing, their residents know where their next meal is coming from – they know they can expect food at a scheduled drop off.

Can you describe your partnership with Repair the World?
I met Zack Block, who runs the Repair the World community in Pittsburgh a few years ago when we were working out of the same co-working space. At the time I was writing for an online magazine, and I wrote about Repair the World when they launched here three years ago. At the time 412 Food Rescue was in its germination stage, and I knew they’d be an instrumental partner in getting our organization off the ground. When we were about to launch, I got in touch with Zack and asked for the fellows’ help in recruiting our first volunteers. Repair the World’s fellows played a big role in getting us started, and continue to make a significant difference in our work of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

What role should religious organizations and faith communities play in food justice work?
I think a lot. As we have demonstrated with Repair the World, outreach to faith based organizations is instrumental to what we do. The common thread between all religions – whether you belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque – is a base message to do good. We offer an easy way to plug in and do that.

Repair Interview: Zamir Hassan of Muslims Against Hunger

Repair the World recently launched our High Holiday campaign, focused on advancing racial justice and building relationships between communities. There are many different ways to get involved (Learn about the root causes of racial injustice in America. Host or attend a Turn the Tables dinner. Take action in solidarity with our neighbors as a multiracial Jewish community.) – and we encourage you to explore them all.

Meanwhile, we will be introducing you to some of our favorite change makers. Here’s Zamir Hassan, founder of Muslims Against Hunger. As a network of more than 20 volunteer communities across the country, the organization is making a real impact on food justice front. Read on to find out more…

What was your inspiration behind starting Muslims Against Hunger?
I grew up in Pakistan and came to graduate school in America in 1973. In 2000, I ended up going to a soup kitchen for the first time as a chaperone for my son’s school in New Jersey. I was shocked. There were people who were homeless living in my community, and I had no idea that they were there. I was ignorant. The Muslim liturgy says I am not supposed to go to bed if my neighbor is hungry. I started reflecting on that, and it motivated me to get engaged with the hunger issue.
Read more

Repair Interview: Rachel Sumekh of Swipe Out Hunger

Repair the World recently launched our High Holiday campaign, focused on advancing racial justice and building relationships between communities. There are many different ways to get involved (Learn about the root causes of racial injustice in America. Host or attend a Turn the Tables dinner. Take action in solidarity with our neighbors as a multiracial Jewish community.) – and we encourage you to explore them all.

Meanwhile, we will be introducing you to some of our favorite change makers. Here’s Rachel Sumekh, the Founding Executive Director of Swipe Out Hunger. Sumekh co-founded the organization – which lets students donate unused points from university meal plans to feed peers and community members facing hunger – during her sophomore year at UCLA. Today, Swipe Out Hunger exists on 23 campuses across the country, and is changing the conversation about poverty and food insecurity on college campuses. Read on…

What was the inspiration behind Swipe Out Hunger?
It started out because we were annoyed with the university for creating meal plans where students who had excess points at the end of a semester lost them. It began informally, with students going into dining halls and buying meals to go, then giving them to homeless and other food insecure people. But the university had some issues with this model. Fortunately, rather than stopping us, they said we should develop a new model. Today, if a student has extra meal swipes, they can opt into the Swipe Out Hunger program and convert that money into resources to help food insecure students.

Read more

Repair the World Launches “Act Now for Racial Justice” Campaign

Offering opportunities to stand against racial injustice through service, Repair the World today launched Act Now for Racial Justice, a campaign that coincides with the Jewish High Holidays and that will continue through MLK Day and Passover in 2017. The campaign includes resources for young adults to learn how racism permeates economic, social, and criminal justice systems; to host meals and discussions with peers exploring how our food systems perpetuate racial injustice; and to take action and serve with communities to move closer to racial justice.

“Like in the Black community, young adults are leading our Jewish community in creating change; and, by standing in solidarity, they are making a meaningful difference, sending an important signal, and building deep relationships across racial lines,” said David Eisner, CEO of Repair that World. “Our Jewish values compel us to stand for racial justice and to right the wrongs we see nearly daily; this feels especially urgent right now, as we look to understand where we’ve fallen short over the past year, and to mark the New Year by resolving to do better. Act Now for Racial Justice offers our community tools to take action through service in a Jewish context, and to address important inequities in our communities.”

The meals hosted during the campaign will be part of Repair the World’s Turn The Tables initiative, and will include educational materials, including discussion guides. A portion of the meals are supported by OneTable.

Learn more at werepair.org/high-holidays, including information on service opportunities around the country to counteract racial injustices in food and educational equity. Follow #ActNowForRacialJustice on Twitter for stories and interviews with Jews of color and others standing against racial injustice Act Now for Racial Justice will continue to offer service and reflection opportunities year-round, including on MLK Day and Passover 2017.

To stand as allies with victims of racial injustice, Repair will send a Jewish delegation to Facing Race, November 10-12 in Atlanta, GA. Facing Race is a collaborative endeavor to grow the racial justice movement and the largest multiracial, intergenerational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders.

“Meaningful service in solidarity with communities of color is a powerful way to take a stand against racial injustice,” Eisner adds. “We are all part of America’s racial justice journey and young adults often look for activeroles they can play to positively impact this journey. Frankly, each of us already play a role in the racial justice journey of our community and our country.  The question we each need to ask is whether we are satisfied today with what that role has been.”