Homeless and other hungry, needy people may soon dine on perfectly good prepared meals that otherwise would have been thrown away.
Mesa’s United Food Bank and Scottsdale’s Waste Not, both nonprofits, are merging in hopes of streamlining operations and supplying meals to other charities that feed the hungry.
While United Food Bank has rescued nearly out of date foods from grocery stores for years and supplied soup kitchens and other charities, Waste Not specializes in salvaging prepared meals — such as those prepared by catering services for parties and conventions, or excess food cooked but never sold at sports venues.
“We just want to increase the number of meals we can get to the people who need it most,’’ Kate Thoene, executive director of Waste Not, said last week when the program was announced.
She said Waste Not can accept food that has been cooked, but not food that has been served, because of health regulations. That eliminates food from pot luck lunches and people’s homes.
“It’s essentially over-production’’ by licensed kitchens, Thoene said.
Last year, Waste Not recovered 3.5 million pounds of edible food from catering services and other food purveyors, taking it the same day to such charities as the Boys and Girls Club, the UMOM family shelter in Phoenix, the United Methodist Church in Tempe and some transitional living centers in Mesa.
The new collaboration makes Waste Not an affiliate of the United Food Bank, allowing it to use United Food Bank’s west Mesa warehouse and its extensive distribution network in the East Valley and eastern Arizona.
Between the two of them, the agencies recovered 8 million pounds of food, said Dave Richins, CEO of United Food Bank, who sees potential for increasing that significantly by expanding Waste Not’s reach into the East Valley.
“I think the East Valley is underserved by this product,’’ Richins said. “If I can bring more resources into the East Valley, I will do it.’’
He said Mesa’s strong assortment of nonprofits, such as A New Leaf and Save the Family, could benefit from additional prepared meals. A New Leaf, for instance, operates a domestic violence shelter and the East Valley Men’s Center for homeless men.
Paz de Cristo, Mesa’s soup kitchen, could obtain prepared foods and give it to the homeless and working poor after they dine on their evening meal, prepared by a rotating list of churches and other community organizations, Richins said.
“Food security is a logistics question,’’ Richins said. “We have enough food. It’s a matter of getting it to the people who need it most.’’
While people seem willing to fight and argue about just about anything in a polarized society, most people agree that no one should go hungry, he said.
Richins said it is a natural fit for United to add Waste Not as an affiliate because both organizations target hunger, but in a different manner.
United’s role has been to deliver uncooked groceries to other food banks and social service agencies, where it is either cooked or distributed in food boxes to the disadvantaged.
“The reason a nonprofit exists is to provide a solution to a community need and our two organizations have both worked tirelessly for many years to answer the same need, but in different, complementary ways,” said Christina La Porte, Waste Not Board President.
“Last year, Waste Not recovered 3.5 million pounds of prepared food that would have otherwise gone to waste — a record in the agency’s 32-year history,” added Kate Thoene, executive director at Waste Not. “I’m thrilled to be working with United Food Bank, who prioritizes collaboration and sees this expanded partnership and prepared food rescue as an avenue to move the needle on hunger relief in Arizona.”