In Houston, leftovers become sustenance for needy

The founder of Second Servings says she studied other food-for-the-needy programs around the US before launching.

Kris Axtman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
A jogger and cyclists are seen in a park with the skyline of Houston seen in the background in this 2002 file photo.

A non-profit which delivers unused food from restaurants and events to facilities servicing the needy is now feeding thousands of Houston's hungry. 

Second Servings of Houston has collected thousands of pounds of food since February from about 30 restaurants, caterers, arenas, and hotels, serving about 3,000 people who are food insecure each week.

Barbara Bronstein created Second Servings in an effort to change a culture of waste she had seen in the food industry. She put together teams of people to distribute the food to the hungry. 

Ms. Bronstein says in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor Friday that the meals, like salmon and couscous, are often gluten free and low in sodium, and better than what those who are food insecure can usually get at food banks and shelters.

“The people at the charities are discovering food they’ve never tasted before,” she adds. “That’s one of the benefits that we’re seeing. It’s high quality and healthy unlike the staple they get from the food bank or people dropping.

Bronstein notes that the food would otherwise be sent to landfills. Second Servings operates the service seven days a week. About one in five Houstonians are food insecure, she said.

“We’re starting to think that it could inspire how to experience the way the other half lives in terms of how the other half eats,” she says.

Bronstein, who once held a lengthy career in marketing, first began another food rescue program called Banquet Bounty for the Hungry before starting Second Serving of Houston. 

The organization received advice and certification before launching the venture, and looked at a range of programs involved in food rescue efforts that have sprung up around the country before reaching out to donors.

Second Servings transports the food to shelters and temporary facilities for the homeless at a cost of just 5 cents per meal, according to Bronstein’s estimates.

The effort takes “perfectly edible food” to feed some of Houston’s 800,000 hungry people, according to the group’s website. Many of the chefs and restaurant owners quickly jumped on board, especially after a local Hilton hotel began donating to the program.

The Hilton has given roughly 6,000 pounds of food to the venture since early 2015, or about 680 pounds each month. Among the other donations, the organization has fed thousands of people. Bronstein says she aims to feed millions of hungry people eventually.

"I think it's a food-distribution problem more so than a food-shortage issue,” she adds. “There is plenty of food, and plenty of need, and if we can connect the dots and deliver that food to the people who need it, there wouldn't be a food-insecurity issue."

John Reece, a director at a provisional living facility called Magnificat House, said his community often receives food from Second Helping.

"A lot of our residents come from the streets or they've been in jail, so they've never had food like this, chef-prepared food items," he told KTRK-TV News. "It's been very exciting for us to have really good food."

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