Five years ago, Jeff Schacher and his friend Kevin Mullins were sitting around one morning and thinking about how we give. People from all walks of life give regularly to their favorite causes, but what about companies, how do they give?
In 2005, Schacher started web-based software company WhenToManage, now called Peachworks, which gave restaurant operators a simple way to manage their labor, inventory and reporting. As a small and quickly growing company, Schacher thought they should start giving something back to the community.
Since restaurants are what Schacher and his team knew, they started there. Restaurants, and other food service organizations, throw away a lot of food and there are many hungry people and families that don’t have a good idea where their next meal is coming from. That’s how Norwalk, CT based Community Plates was founded. So Schacher and Mullins started calling restaurant operators and support agencies, there was definitely food to save and definitely people that needed it. Now the only question left was, could they make the process simple enough for everyone?
It’s a funny phrase: “food insecure.” But it describes more than 50 million people in the U.S. today. But if Jeff Schacher has his way, it will end for many in the New York City area.
“Our vision at Community Plates from the beginning has always been exclusively about ending hunger in the United States,” Schacher explained. “People who are ‘food-insecure’ are unable to provide for themselves, or their families the amount of food, the quality of food they need to live healthily. And so we’ve been very focused on how we can change that.”
Even though this issue has been around many years, Schacher believes that it’s solvable. “I firmly believe that American hunger will go away. It’s not going to be a thing that lasts forever. But it still kind of takes you aback, every time you see the number.”
Community Plates, which calls itself a “food rescue revolution, works by directly transferring fresh, usable food that would have otherwise been thrown away from restaurants, markets and other food industry sources to food-insecure families throughout the U.S.
“One of our core values is passion, which can be a little bit of a throwaway word, but it’s really what drives our team and our board. We have a team of about five people in our national office who work really really hard and what drives us is just knowing that we’ve got a solution on our hands for those 50 million Americans.”
Another core value? Simplicity. “One nice thing about Community Plates is that we only have the one program. We only do one thing. We try to meet the mission of ending American food insecurity through direct transfer food rescue. We’ve employed, proprietary technology that connects volunteers, grassroots volunteers, non-food professionals in general with the opportunity to pick up food that would have otherwise gone to waste from restaurants, bakers, caterers, farmers, farmers market, all up and down the food service industry chain so that they can directly transfer that food to agencies who already do a great job of serving the food-insecure population like soup kitchens and food pantries.”
The program is national but recently launched in Fairfield County, but it’s expanding in Columbus, Ohio Albuquerque, New Mexico. New Orleans, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Cincinnati, Ohio. “We are in seven national locations,” Schacher noted.
Fairfield County is kind of the test kitchen, he pointed out. “We didn’t have a template when we started it. We had to have a place to test and so we’ve done that here in Fairfield County.”
Schacher said that his agency is not in competition with any other. “We serve almost 60 different social service agencies here. We’re not really in competition with anybody else for that food. But anybody that was receiving that food before can still receive that food. It’s just that we can take care of doing that for them free of charge.”
Two critical pieces of the organization are leadership, and technology. “We’re always looking for people who can grasp the vision. They have to be able to grasp the vision from the kind of unique way that we’re doing business, which is, we’re using technology as the foundation,” Schacher asserted.
The third piece is that the food is transferred directly. “So it’s kind of distinctive to our platform that we don’t have any warehouses. We don’t have any employees. We don’t have any insurances or employees to staff those warehouses or drive those trucks. But all the food goes directly from point A, always, directly to point B with nowhere in between,” Schacher says proudly.
Volunteers are also vital. That’s who rescues the food, according to Schacher. “What it really takes is someone in a community. That can sometimes be individuals, sometimes it’s corporations, sometimes it’s other non-profits who grasp the vision for solving hunger in specifically this way. Then generally they’ll approach and say hey, we’re interested in starting a food rescue community of our own. And then what our platform does is provide technology, best practices, training, and administrative support to make it very simple for them to be effective.”