MC senior starts Food Recovery Network chapter

MC senior starts Food Recovery Network chapter

Nov. 18, 2015

When Maryville College senior Brandon Denney ’16 began volunteering at local service sites, food became his focus.

As a Bonner Scholar, Denney spends 10 hours a week volunteering at local non-profits. Through his volunteer work, he witnessed food waste firsthand at various jobs and volunteer sites.

While volunteering at a local afterschool program, he also noticed that students in the program had access to healthy and nutritious food that many similar programs were unable to provide.

As he began to understand the implications of food waste, he thought about the need to combat hunger and wastefulness in the Maryville community and started to consider ways to donate leftover food to other local non-profits.

“According to Second Harvest of East Tennessee, one in five children in East Tennessee are at risk of going hungry at any given point in the day,” said Denney, a biochemistry major from Gallatin, Tenn.

Additionally, food waste is an issue from an environmental perspective, he said.

Piles of food in landfills are unable to undergo fermentation, and in turn, this creates methane gas, a greenhouse gas 20 times worse than carbon dioxide, Denney explained. With this knowledge, he put his first steps towards minimizing Blount County’s food waste into action. 

Coordinating Bread Runs

Denney first began donating in the form of bread that he collected from Foothills Milling Company Bakery, a local bakery. He said the idea came by chance.

“It was just a chance encounter with a friend who worked there, and so kind of on accident, I stumbled into it,” Denney said, adding that his friend mentioned that the bakery often had to throw out large amounts of bread. In February 2015, Denney, along with a few friends, arranged a bread run in which they collected the bread, labeled the ingredients and delivered it to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Maryville.

Maryville College sophomore Hannah Kirby ’18, who is president of MC’s Environmental Action Team, helped out with the bread runs over the summer and said it was a great feeling to save food for people in need.

“I work in a bakery, and I've always hated throwing away ‘old’ product, so seeing how much food we were saving and then being able to equate that with feeding people who might not have had bread otherwise is really amazing,” said Kirby, an environmental studies major from Knoxville. 

Food Recovery Network

Denney and his friends had already donated nearly 500 pounds of bread by the time Denney first learned about the Food Recovery Network (FRN) this summer at a leadership institute designed for Bonner Scholars across the nation to learn about service opportunities. FRN was one of the service organizations present, and Denney found that it shared his passion for fighting food waste. According to its website, FRN “unites students on college campuses to fight food waste and hunger by recovering perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from their campuses and communities and donating it to people in need.”

In four years of operation, FRN now has 153 chapters and is approaching one million pounds of recovered food, a number that MC has contributed to. To qualify as an FRN chapter, each organization must have completed two successful food deliveries. Denney’s previous bread donations counted for this requirement, so Maryville College’s FRN chapter became official last July.

“The reason I started it [the chapter] was because there was a need in Blount County and a need across America in general,” Denney said. “We usually associate hunger with other places, but it’s often in our own backyard.” 

A Perfect Partnership

Not long after creating the chapter, Denney wanted to expand the food recovery and donation opportunities. Despite cautions from FRN that college food providers are sometimes difficult to work with, he and Kirby contacted Metz Culinary Management, the campus food provider. They told Metz about the new FRN chapter at MC and asked about the prospect of recovering leftover food from the dining hall. Metz agreed almost immediately.

“The amazing thing about working with Metz was that they were absolutely frictionless,” Denney said.

Metz General Manager at MC James Dulin said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to contribute to the campus FRN chapter, which allows Metz to positively impact the community while eliminating food waste.

“When Brandon Denney approached us to help him collect donations for a new Food Recovery Network chapter, we jumped at the opportunity to participate,” Dulin said. “Metz is committed to fighting hunger and eliminating food waste across all of its accounts, and this was a chance to accomplish both of those initiatives. Brandon and his fellow Food Recovery Network volunteers are such great examples of the passion students have to help others here at Maryville. We look forward to seeing the effects of this program on our local community and will continue to support the chapter any way we can.”

During Metz food recoveries, which occur every Monday and Friday afternoon, volunteers retrieve food that Metz has saved and refrigerated, transfer it to reusable containers and deliver it to one of the three delivery sites: Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Boys and Girls Club of America and Family Promise of Alcoa. This process is completed within 10 to 30 minutes to ensure that the food remains refrigerated and safe. In addition to the Metz recoveries, the chapter still conducts the bread runs that initially got them started.

A Rewarding Experience

Denney now completes his Bonner service hours by working with the FRN. As the College’s FRN chapter president, Denney oversees the deliveries by coordinating volunteers and making sure all of the food is weighed and delivered on time. He is also responsible for reporting the total weight donated to the national FRN chapter.

So far, the chapter has donated 1,500 pounds of food since the bread donations began in February, and Denney aims to donate 5,000 pounds of food by the end of this school year.

“I’d rather aim high and not make it, but I think we are on track right now,” Denney said. “I think 5,000 pounds is very much in reach.”

Despite a desire to donate as much food as possible, Denney said the number is not really important.

“More important is the fact that we are donating food and contributing to ending hunger in our region,” he said, adding that the FRN has been one of the most rewarding ways to dedicate service. “I’ve volunteered at a lot of Bonner sights, but this one I really feel happy with. I got a chapter started! It’s weird; it’s almost like it’s a part of me now.”

While there is already a steady group of volunteers for the food recoveries, Denney said he welcomes any student volunteers, as long as they complete the necessary food safety training.

“We’ve got a solid volunteer group right now, and it would be really great to see even more people partake in it,” Denney said.

After graduation this May, Denney said he plans to attend graduate school in a field of research and wants to dedicate his degree to discovering ways to reduce waste across the nation. 

By Evy Linkous ’16, Communications Assistant

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.