Food Connection gets restaurants’ excess to those in need

CHALLENGE DU JOUR: Following a meeting with Pack's Tavern event coordinator Mary Evans, Flori Pate found herself pondering a simple, yet resonant request: “Is there anything you can do to keep food from getting thrown away?” That question and some serious brainstorming eventually resulted in the birth of Food Connection. Pictured, from left to right, are Buzz Durham, Pate, Evans and Woodward McKee. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Local Flavor AVL co-founder Flori Pate is combating food insecurity and food waste, one cab ride at a time. Backed by Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church and driven by Asheville Taxi, Food Connection calls on area restaurants and caterers to donate — rather than dump — their excess food.

“There’s this strange, ironic dynamic in our community where we are considered to be a food destination town, and people travel from all over to eat the food here. But we are one of the most food-insecure cities,” says Pate. “We want to intercept all this food from being thrown away, rescue it and get it where it needs to go.”

Some 37,000 Buncombe County residents (or 15.5 percent of the population) were food insecure in 2012, according to a study by Feeding America, meaning that these individuals faced a “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” Food Connection was created, says Pate, to reduce these “very upsetting” figures.

Pate’s role, aside from marketing her 3-month-old venture, lies in identifying businesses that often end a busy day or special event with at least 18 portions of surplus food.  In these cases, the overstocked companies can text Food Connection, which then pays cab fare for an on-demand pickup.

Woody McKee, owner of Asheville Taxi, has committed to transport each feast at top speed.

“When a Food Connection comes in, they put us at the top of their dispatch list,” says Pate. “We can guarantee that Asheville Taxi will be there within 20 minutes to pick up the food and take it to the designated shelter.”

This instantaneous and reliable transportation process is not only essential for spurring restaurant participation, but, perhaps more importantly, for ensuring consumer safety and reducing donor liability. The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, Pate says, provides additional protection against potential food-borne illness claims, as does meticulous labeling of donation times.

“We are starting small,” says Pate, whose primary food recipient is currently the Be Loved House. Representatives from Asheville Independent Restaurants, several grocery stores and even a retirement home have already inquired about the feasibility of partnership, though.

Employing McKee’s services rather than rallying on-call volunteers comes with a price tag, though. For Pate, miles mean money.

“We definitely need to raise money and awareness for what we’re doing, so we can continue to grow,” she says, busy with final touches for Food Connection’s kickoff fundraiser on Friday, March 13.

Eight bands involved with Local Flavor AVL will offer their time and talent at the daylong event, each playing a short set before the culminating all-star jam. Performers include Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats, The Wilhelm Brothers, a duet by Eleanor Underhill (Underhill Rose) and Silas Durocher (Get Right Band), Posh Hammer, Jr. James & the Late Guitar, The Bread & Butter Band, The Moon and You, and Red Honey.

“These bands were definitely on board and willing to play for the cause,” says Pate. “That’s why I love Asheville. … This lineup is amazing”

Pate’s team will raffle a grand prize — a night and dinner at Sourwood Inn — plus donations from Highland Brewing Co. and Eden Out Meals, among other prizes. Proceeds from the raffle and food purchases (catered by Cecilia’s Culinary Food Tour and Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn) will be pooled with ticket sales for the fundraiser.

Pate says attending the event is the best way for interested Ashevilleans to offer support to Food Connection at this time.

“We’re trying to break all barriers of age or social status and really just make this about the community,” says Pate. “We’ve got big plans … and [Food Connection] really is working so far!”




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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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