Remember when recycling was a fringe activity? Flori Pate does, and in recalling how the practice made its way into mainstream culture, the Food Connection executive director sees the potential for similar ingrained societal behaviors regarding food waste.
Pate started the Asheville nonprofit in early 2015 as a way to get surplus food from restaurants and caterers to people in need. Over the past 2½ years, she’s developed more partnerships with local high-quality food suppliers (e.g. Celine and Co. Catering; Deerfield Retirement Community) and linked them with various organizations and agencies (e.g., BeLoved Asheville; East Asheville Welcome Table) dedicated to feeding the hungry.
As word of Food Connection’s work spread, calls and messages have come in with questions about how to start food rescue programs in other cities. With the June acceptance of its application by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the door is now open to scale Food Connection to new locations while keeping its name and logo intact.
From past business experience, Pate knew that protecting a business name is important. So she took steps to trademark Food Connection — two common words that capture its mission but are also used by groups providing other services. She hired the firm of McGuire, Wood & Bissette in spring 2016 to register the trademark.
“At first, it did not get accepted, and then Rebecca Crandall, our attorney, wrote this long explanation about how we’re very different from anyone else who’s using the Food Connection name — and it came through for us,” Pate says. “Now other people can’t start similar food rescue programs under the name Food Connection.”
The first step in moving beyond Asheville will be developing a playbook that chronicles how Food Connection gained traction and continues to grow. After hearing about the nonprofit or simply conducting Google searches for “food rescue,” people contact Pate wanting advice about how to follow Food Connection’s lead in their city. Pate says she’s so thrilled to hear from these like-minded individuals that she’ll talk with people for however long is necessary, relaying Food Connection’s story and answering questions. Therefore, a comprehensive guidebook that Pate could point interested parties to would be a far more efficient means of education. Food Connection’s board recently approved funding for Pate to have a part-time assistant with whom she will soon dive into the playbook’s creation.
While Pate says everything from the nonprofit’s Asheville experiences could potentially go in the guide, she highlights core founding components like the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the law protects businesses that fear giving food away will get them in trouble. Pate says she frequently has to “talk people off the ledge” as far as convincing them that they’re legally safe to participate in Food Connection. With the guide, she can also bolster the nonprofit’s track record by pointing to the more than 40,000 estimated fresh meals it’s rescued in Asheville — none of which has resulted in any problems for their recipients.
Relationships with local food providers who’ve come aboard will also be well-documented, as will Food Connection’s partnership with Asheville Taxi Co., whose owner Woody McKee has been pivotal in transporting meals and in March went from charging half fares to offering the service for free. Pate hopes these success stories aren’t flukes and that leaders from such targeted spots as Charlotte — which have directly contacted Pate — and fellow destination city Charleston will be able to replicate the Asheville blueprint.
The soft launch in summer 2016 of a program with Kennesaw State University outside Atlanta suggests it can. Reuniting with former UNC Asheville director of dining services Emily Williams, who forged Food Connection’s still-vibrant partnership with UNCA’s cafeteria, Pate was able to identify MUST Ministries as a recipient and help its mission of feeding 65-100 people three meals a day.
But as Food Connection expands its footprint, Pate says she and her colleagues “can’t take [their] eye off of Asheville and what we can do to feed even more people.” One notable accomplishment on the local level is Project Backpack. In the collaboration with the Asheville City Schools Homeless Education Program, 25 students at Asheville High School were provided with not only nutritious meals but book bags filled with snacks, toiletries and items ranging from movie tickets to bus passes that were donated by local businesses.
Purchasing a food truck to take meals to local communities where residents are unable to travel to shelters is also being discussed, as is the creation of an Asheville distribution hub. Thermo Fisher Scientific is already on board to donate commercial refrigerators, and procedures are being brainstormed that will allow cabdrivers all-hours access to a secure, centrally located building where they can drop off donated food for volunteers to process.