A behind the scenes look at Cultivate Food Rescue feeding the community

NOW: A behind the scenes look at Cultivate Food Rescue feeding the community

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- “I like to give back to the community, it is a good cause, there is so much food going to waste, and so many kids that are food insecure,” says Amy Wikowski, volunteer.  

Amy and her family have been volunteering at Cultivate Food Rescue for 3 years. Between the 3 of them, they visit the nonprofit 4 times a week. Carrie Walsh is a volunteer lead at Cultivate. She has been coming consistently to guide volunteers through the packing meals process.

“I started volunteering last February, it was one of the few things that gave me hope, I saw a lot of hurt in the community so I could personally have a small impact here, save the food from getting wasted, give it to the kids, it was a sense of fulfillment, it was very rewarding,” says Carrie Walsh, volunteer lead.  

In total, Cultivate sees around 400 volunteers each month. The nonprofit relies on these individuals and several organizations in the community to continue their mission. A mission that operates as… a cycle.

“Cultivate is a collaborative effort, but we are a small nonprofit but we rely on the community for everything,” says Chris Germann, Associate Director of Planning and Marketing.  

Cultivate rescues food from organizations, schools, universities, and even restaurants that would have otherwise gone to waste. The food is then repurposed to feed those in the community who are hungry.

“So it is very interesting seeing it from the beginning stages where lets say we go on a Saturday afternoon to a Notre Dame football game, we do a rescue, it is good fresh food, we break it down here in containers, then we see it go out to our local residents, to kids and people in need, seniors residents who might be shut in it is great to see the community work together as a team,” says Walsh.  

We decided to watch the process for ourselves, from start to finish! On this particular day, we headed to Trader Joe’s. While the store has only been opened since August, the grocery is in the top ten of food providers for the nonprofit. Then, we head back to Cultivate. From there, volunteers and staff members alike take over. After sorting through the food and picking out fresh ingredients that can be repurposed, the cooking begins.

Once the cooking is complete, we move to the assembly line! From there, the food gets packaged into frozen meals. These meals are distributed to places such as South Bend Housing Authority, Hope Ministries, Milford Food Bank and several more. On this particular day, we headed off to the schools!  

Cultivate provides 6 different frozen meals to students who are in the free and reduced lunch programs in 9 different school systems. In total, they serve around 1,000 students with meals across St. Joseph, Elkhart, and Marshall county. It is all to help kids stay fed for those 68 hours between Friday and Monday.

“When they go hungry over the weekend, and they come back to school Monday morning, they have a hard time thinking, they misbehave, they run to the lunch room on Monday morning and principles allow them because they are hungry,” says Jim Conklin, Executive Director of Cultivate Food Rescue.  

Yet, for this Thanksgiving, Cultivate took their mission one step further. With the help of Ivy Tech, Katharos Catering and Stanz Foods, the nonprofit is providing 300 hot, thanksgiving meals for families in the community. These Thanksgiving meal deliveries emphasize the importance of taking care of each other during the holidays, but also, serve as a reminder that these families are hungry 365 days of a year.

“From a personal standpoint, having lived in the community my whole life, it makes me really proud to be a part of an organization that has found an issue of food waste in the community, so we found the problem and we found the solution by feeding hungry people,” says Laura McNally, Communications and Education Coordinator at Cultivate.

In total, cultivate has rescued two million, fifty-three thousand, six hundred and ninety-eight pounds. But even more notable, the thousands of full stomachs and smiles they continue to provide for those in the community. A number that they are hopeful will continue to grow for the years to come.  

Learn how to help Cultivate and their mission here.

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