July 27, 2010


Waste not, want not
By Catherine Krug
April 27, 2010

Lately, the state government’s been glancing into restaurants’ pantries, asking, “Are you gonna finish that?”

A bill proposed in March 2009 by Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham, would give restaurants and cafeterias the freedom to donate their edible, cooked leftovers to food pantries and homeless shelters … without fear of being sued if anyone gets sick from it. To sweeten the deal, participating restaurants could get a tax break for their contributions.

“It was a common-sense measure,” says McMurtry. “The leftover food that’s still high quality and edible … can become something of substance … to help people in need, rather than end up in Dumpsters.”

The number of people in need is steadily climbing. A study released by Feeding America, the country’s food bank network, in February found that last year, 394,300 Bostonians sought food from the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), up from about 303,691 people in 2005. “The number of people who are using emergency food assistance has gone up by about 23 percent over the last four years,” says Stacy Wong, spokesperson for the GBFB.

According to McMurtry, the restaurants and the shelters would partner up, arranging a van to pick up the food. This isn’t a new concept. In cities like New York and San Francisco, Robin Hood-esque food rescue groups travel to restaurants and cafeterias, picking up any food that wasn’t served and isn’t expired. They aren’t taking the table scraps you just nibbled on, though; it’s the stockpile of “just in case we run out” reserves that can be found in the back of any food service joint.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit founded in Brookline earlier this year, already operates under this model, according to founder and executive director Ashley Stanley. “There are 40 million Americans who are hungry. There are 96 billion pounds of food a year that’s wasted. Anything we can do as a community is beneficial,” Stanley says. “I think legislation like this … would disarm the fears that surround food repurposing and food rescue.”

GBFB does not currently accept donations from restaurants, and Wong says it’s too early to tell whether McMurty’s bill could change that policy. “We can’t really assess that right now,” she says. “Any legislation that passes, we’d have to assess it on its own merits and see what comes out before we made any decisions.”

VeAnn Campbell, executive director of St. Joseph’s Food Pantry in Salem, says she “would be very glad to have” more restaurant donations if the bill passes. St. Joseph’s only occasionally gets donations from restaurants now, and the food pantry sees about 4,000 families a month, and like GBFB, they have been feeling the effects of the economy.

“We have been fortunate to be blessed by many donations … and every little bit helps,” Campbell says.

The exact breakdown of the tax credit hasn’t yet been decided, and it could make or break the bill, but McMurtry says he hopes it passes, with or without the incentive. “If there’s not a tax credit or a deduction available, because of the economic times,” he says, “our primary concern is the opportunity for these businesses to make a donation without the liability.”

The bill is in committee until May 7th.

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