1,590 pounds of food has been donated to Youth Emergency Services since the University of Nebraska at Omaha organization, Every Bite Counts, launched in October 2016.
Housed in the Community Engagement Center, Every Bite Counts recovers food from catering events in the Milo Bail Student Center, the Community Engagement Center and the College of Public Affairs and Community Service.
The organization only collects cold food from buffet lines because students are unable to safely recover hot items in a short amount of time. Students commonly recover whole pizzas, sandwiches, cookies and fruit.
The organization also partners with the Maverick Food Pantry and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Tomāto Tomäto. If the pantry has too much of one food or if the food is close to the expiration date, Every Bite Counts takes it to Youth Emergency Services. Tomāto Tomäto donates extra fresh produce to Every Bite Counts.
Every Bite Counts stores the food collected in a fridge donated by the Community Engagement Center. Students use a shared zip car to drop the food off at YES twice a week.
“We identified zip car as a mode of transportation because we wanted all students to be able to participate,” UNO Sustainability Coordinator Sarah Burke said. “You don’t need your own vehicle.”
The vehicle is paid for, insured and gas is provided.
YES was selected as the donation site because it serves college-aged youth. People at YES are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Burke said Every Bite Counts could be benefiting UNO students because some students may be using YES services.
Every Bite Counts Treasurer and in-coming President Carly Johnson said she was shocked when she first delivered food to YES.
“If I saw them on UNO’s campus, I would have no idea they are homeless,” Johnson said. “It could really be anyone.”
Johnson said deliveries are her favorite aspect of volunteering. The youth help unload the food from the car and are always grateful for the meals donated.
“One in five kids in Omaha don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Johnson said. “That’s crazy to me considering how much food we throw away. Our landfills are more full of food than anything else. We help keep food out of the landfill and into the mouths and stomachs of people who need it.”
Johnson hopes to see more students volunteer for Every Bite Counts so the organization can expand to collect food from all major buildings on north and south campus. Students who want to volunteer sign up on MavSYNC. There is a link on MavSYNC to a google doc that lists all of the catering orders for the week.
If a student signs up to recover food, but there is no food, they automatically get fifteen minutes of community service for showing up. Volunteers can log their time on the timesheet on the fridge in the Community Engagement Center.
“The organization shows that we are caring for the community with our food,” Burke said. “Being a college student automatically puts you in a different level. There is a certain privilege. Even though you may come from a really hard family life like youth at YES may be experiencing, you still have a bit of a leg up. It’s our way of giving back.”