Wabash Valley group trying to keep food from going to waste

Allison Finzel

Even for a community of our size surrounded by farms, hundreds if not thousands of children go hungry every night. The personal stories are all too real, as Terre Haute resident Allison Finzel discovered after volunteering for Catholic Charities and Ryves Hall.

Her passion for helping children led her to start the not-for-profit organization Wabash Valley Food Rescue. By day she is the Community Wellness Coordinator at the Vigo County Purdue Extension office. “I hate to see anything go to waste. It is not in my makeup,” said Finzel.

Grow now, use later

The Giving Garden, a Purdue Extension Wabash Valley Master Gardeners project, grows thousands of pounds of vegetables that are donated to local food pantries and soup kitchens. Last summer Allison witnessed thousands of pounds of tomatoes rot away during the height of gardening season because they weren’t legally allowed to be donated due to blemishes or spots.

Volunteers at the soup kitchens can’t keep up with cooking and processing of the tomatoes they receive every week from the Giving Garden. Last summer, in a quick effort to rescue as many as possible she asked local restaurants, such as Piloni’s, for help with processing. Crates of tomatoes were saved and processed to be consumed at a later date.

Late this summer she was introduced to Indiana State University assistant professor Mark McInerney in the Department of Applied Health Sciences. Together they were able to find a way to turn processing tomatoes into part of the lesson plan for some of McInerney’s students. Indiana State University has seven residential and one commercial kitchen on site. Beyond the two classes they serve a semester, they sit idle. At summer’s end, they were put to good use as a group of students received some hands-on experience.

“One of the things we hate to see and try to control is food waste,” McInerney said. “We are in an area of the state that has a high food insecurity rate. When I ran the numbers, we processed 3,751 cup servings, which will help people reach their 2.5-cup vegetable serving for the day. Those average out to a collective 112,000 calories. We would have been throwing away all of that energy when it could very easily be processed and used later.” 

Beyond tomatoes

The Wabash Valley Food Rescue is also coordinating with local caterers, restaurants and schools who may have leftover food available — food that never made it out onto the serving line — to deliver to local caring agencies. For example, every Tuesday they pick up from the Red Barn. On Tuesday’s Rotary meets there and there is almost always excess food prepared that never makes it out of the kitchen. “The Lighthouse Mission cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner for their guests. They have a limited budget. If we can bring them food that will help them feed hungry people, we will do our best to do so,” Finzel stated.

Next phase

The Wabash Valley Food Rescue is in its infancy, but it is finding ways to cut down on food waste and feed the less fortunate at the same time.

“We are working on an app,” Finzel said. “It will be like Uber for Food Rescue. It will be catered toward Vigo County. You can sign up as a food rescuer or somebody who is donating food, or sign up as a caring agency. Food donors will be able to list what food they have that needs to be picked up and rescued. The food will then be delivered to an area caring agency. Volunteers with perhaps only a couple hours to donate can pick up day-old bread from bakeries.” 

It takes a community

It will take a community effort to help end needless food waste and serve those who are in need.

Food is a necessity. Living without knowing where your next meal is coming from or receiving proper daily nutrition makes it difficult to be the best you can be.

To help further the Wabash Valley Food Rescue’s mission contact Finzel at the Vigo County Purdue Extension office at 812-462-3371 or contact the group via its Facebook page, facebook.com/Wabashvalleyfoodrescue.

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a volunteer with TREES Inc. and Ouabache Land Conservancy. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at santucci@janesantucci.com.

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