With the help of Metro Food Rescue and Hazon’s dedicated volunteers, Hazon has serviced a network of more than 45 Detroit-area pantries and saved more than 115,000 pounds of food since June 24.
In early June, City Covenant Church’s food pantry in Detroit found themselves with 20 pounds of excess Italian sausage crumbles. So Chad Techner, a funeral director at the Ira Kaufman Chapel, picked up the sausage, paired it with another donation of ground beef and made pasta sauce in a 15-gallon pot. Together with the help of his 3-year-old son, Eli, they packaged the pasta and sauce into quart containers, and helped Hazon, a nonprofit Jewish organization in Detroit dedicated to environmental sustainability, deliver it to local pantries to serve to their clients.
“There’s all of this excess food and also all of these people who need it,” Techner said. “In today’s day and age, the demand is more extreme than ever.”
The pasta sauce is one of several cooking projects that Techner has taken on since he founded a partner organization, Metro Food Rescue, to assist Hazon in its food rescue initiative. With the help of Metro Food Rescue and Hazon’s dedicated volunteers, Hazon has serviced a network of more than 45 Detroit-area pantries and saved more than 115,000 pounds of food since June 24, when they began tracking.
Techner, who attended Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., says his inspiration for Metro Food Rescue and a partnership with Hazon comes from a long-term concern about food waste and insecurity. His experience in the culinary industry has also given him a unique ability to understand food distribution on a large scale and the cooking skills necessary to get creative with food rescue.
“He’s made gallons of spaghetti sauce from rescued food that we can take to our pantries and they can feed people with,” said Wren Hack, the executive director of Hazon. “His passion and dedication have come through so strongly.”
An Original Plan Adapted To a Time of Need
Techner said he initially met with Hack in early February to discuss a different idea for a food rescue mission: saving leftover catered food from large events.
“People would call us saying they had tons of extra food from shivah, and we never had a good answer for what to do with it,” Techner said.
In early March, Metro Food Rescue helped Hazon salvage more than 250 pounds of excess catered food from an event at the JCC of Metro Detroit. Then the pandemic hit. Events were canceled, excess food went into storage and more people struggled to put meals on the table.
“There was a lot of waste due to the shutdown from COVID,” Hack said. “And at the same time, the need for food has gone up tremendously.”
Hack said that this greater need has even led several people to start food pantries on their front lawns.
And while food banks are stepping up during this time to provide meals to those who are struggling, Techner and Hack say there tends to be a misallocation of food between pantries.
“There are some gaps in the system,” Techner said. “We found that one pantry will have way too much of this but not enough of that.”
Hack said Hazon helps fill these gaps. Using Hazon’s database of more than 45 pantries, Hack is able to determine which food banks need what. If one pantry has too much of a certain food, Hazon picks up the items and redistributes them to another in need, all while ensuring that the food is culturally sensitive to the faith-based organization receiving it. At a time where larger food banks are overburdened, Hack says that Hazon’s allocation efforts are crucial to ensuring that no extra pantry food goes to waste.
Techner and Hack said the community has been instrumental in assisting Hazon in its redistribution mission.
“Every time we’ve needed help with something, someone in the community has stepped up,” he said.
In July, Hazon received 17,000 pounds of chicken to distribute to pantries, with no place to store it. So Techner called Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield for help. Rabbi Michael Moskowitz of Shir Shalom then referred Hack to one of his temple members, Ken Popper, the owner of Empire Packing, a meat storage company in Detroit. Popper volunteered to store 10 palettes of chicken, and Geoff Kretchmer, the president of Star Trax, an event planning company, volunteered a box truck for transportation of the meat. Now, Techner said, Metro Food Rescue can help Hazon gradually distribute the donated chicken through the winter, and even possibly the spring.
“This project takes a community,” Hack said. “It’s far bigger than a village.”
In the fall, Metro Food Rescue is hoping to continue fostering community involvement through its fruit tree rescue project. Through the program, volunteers will pick up excess fruit from people’s backyard trees, so it doesn’t go to waste on the ground.
“It’s also just a really great family-friendly way to volunteer safely in these times,” Techner said.
Though Metro Food Rescue has shifted course during the time of lockdown, Techner hopes to eventually be able to come back to his original inspiration for the project: rescuing food from catered events. When these celebrations resume, he plans to restart this mission, in addition to all the other food rescue avenues he and Hazon have contributed to along the way.
Hack, whose full-time role includes both food rescue redistribution efforts and many other executive director duties, said she is excited to see Techner take on the food rescue project with increased time. By the end of July 2021, Hack says their partnership will lean more heavily on Techner. Meanwhile, she’s happy to be a part of an organization providing an essential service during a time of extreme need.
“I’m grateful that we are able to do this work,” Hack said. “It’s mission-aligned for us because we know we’re diverting food from the landfills, and we’re getting people fed.”
For Techner, too, the initiative comes back to a thought that keeps him up at night: hungry people and families. His goal is to keep expanding Metro Food Rescue’s reach to help serve even more communities members in need.
“It is just so frustrating to know that nearly 40% of food gets thrown out when there are so many people who don’t know where dinner is coming from,” Techner said. “So, it’s been really rewarding to see all these other avenues that we’ve found through the project and to be making a dent in food insecurity in our local area.”