How a Kansas City business is fighting food waste and delivering meals to families in need | $89.3

A Kansas City nonprofit’s innovative approach is reducing food waste, addressing food insecurity and restoring family meal time.

Founded by Tamara Weber in 2019, Pete’s Garden works with caterers, restaurants and food service organizations to preserve raw, prepared food that would otherwise be thrown away.

Webb and a team of volunteers portioned and packaged the food into simple, ready-to-eat meals. These healthy meals are then sent to social service organizations, who distribute them to families in need three days a week.

“It’s really good food,” Webb said. “A caterer or food service operator who serves many people at one time prepares a large volume many times. If there is excess food, there really isn’t any easy and safe way in Kansas City to redistribute the excess food to where it is needed people.”

She said Weber deliberately chose to focus on prepared meals — such as meats, proteins, vegetables and other side dishes — for several reasons.

First, because the pantry already offers bread, packaged goods, desserts, and produce. Second, because her ultimate goal is to get the family to enjoy good food together.

“Food recycling to me is just a means to an end, with the end goal being to actually enable family meal time,” Webb said. “I grew up in a family that had family dinner every day. Looking back, it’s almost eccentric.”

Pitt Gardens volunteers pack meals.

Pitt Gardens volunteers pack meals.

“My idea is that Pete’s Garden makes it easier for other families, especially single moms and working parents, to bring meals home so they can enjoy family meal time, and it’s easy,” she added.

By her own admission, Weber never intended to start a nonprofit. But after watching Anthony Bourdain’s documentary “Waste! A Story of Food Waste” with her daughter as part of a school project, she felt compelled to take action.

“That documentary really opened my eyes because I didn’t realize how big an environmental problem it was, and then I didn’t realize how much food was wasted,” Webb said.

According to statistics on the Pete’s Garden website, American restaurants waste more than $25 billion in food each year, and only 20% of restaurants donate excess undelivered food.

In Kansas City alone, restaurants serve as many as 1 million meals, and one in six children is food insecure.

“I just thought, ‘Well, this problem seems to be just a matter of getting food from people with a surplus to people who need it,'” Webb said.

Initially, Webb researched organizations where she and her daughter could volunteer, but quickly realized that the local gap was bigger than she thought.

“I’m amazed that someone isn’t doing something to address food waste in Kansas City,” Weber wrote in a March 2020 LinkedIn post. “And then one morning in May [2019] I woke up early, convinced that ‘someone’ was me. “

Not long after, Weber quit his job at Hallmark and began strategizing how to minimize food waste in Kansas City.

By August, she was pitching her concept to Operation Breakthrough, and Pitt Gardens immediately partnered with the organization, and in November began distributing meals to families.

“It’s clear this is going to work,” Webb said. “There’s food available, it’s really not hard to repackage it, and working with an organization like Operation Breakthrough, families are there to pick up their kids. Just have meals ready for them when they come.”

rooted in family

Pete's Garden founder Tamara Weber has takeout containers ready to pack her meals.

Pete’s Garden founder Tamara Weber has takeout containers ready to pack her meals.

In many ways, Webb’s desire to save food waste and promote family meal time can be traced back to her upbringing outside Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“I grew up in a family where food was very important, we didn’t waste food, we used it to connect our families,” Weber said.

Webb said her father, Pete Sluk, loved growing produce in his backyard garden to eat with his family and share with neighbors, which is why she chose the name Pete’s Garden.

“Our family meals include vegetables from my father’s garden almost every day, so it was only natural for me to name the organization Pete’s Garden as a tribute to what he had done,” Weber said.

Her father was a factory worker who didn’t graduate high school, so the family didn’t have a lot of money, she said. Now that she has the ability to help others, Weber feels it’s her way of “giving something back.”

“I now have the money and the means to do something with the education, skills and resources that I have to be able to give back to other families in the community,” she said.

In 2022, Pete’s Garden distributed 65,000 meals to families in Kansas City, a number that Weber said could climb to “easily” 125,000 by 2023.

no more wasting time

The projected growth is partly due to Pete’s Garden moving into a larger kitchen at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral — the group had previously been sharing the space in breakout operations.

The new location should allow Pitt Gardens to add more food donors, Weber said.

Partnering organizations are required to work out of health department-inspected kitchens and commit to donating at least 40 pounds of food each week, though Webb added that she would be happy to work with smaller organizations to help divert excess food elsewhere.

“I just don’t want to waste any of the well-prepared food in Kansas City,” she said.

Webb could envision a future plan involving excess ingredients she and volunteers cook at home, but said she wants to stay focused on the “core” of the mission for now.

As Pitt Gardens grows, so does the need for volunteers, Weber said, who pack meals Monday through Saturday from 11am to 1pm

“I think everyone can do something to make things better,” Webb said. “Instead of sitting around complaining that this doesn’t work or that doesn’t work, do something about it. If I can inspire people to think about what they can do to make their little corner of the world a better place, that would be great.”

This story was originally published on Startland News, a member of the KC Media Collective.

Source link