February 23, 2010

Cafés’ trash could be lunch for homeless, group says

A group of students affiliated with Calvert House is pushing coffee shops around campus to donate leftover food to the homeless. Cobb Café is the only café participating so far, providing sandwiches to supplement the group’s Tuesday shipments to the Loop.

While the group reached out to most coffee shops on campus, some, like the Divinity School’s, said they were concerned they might be held liable for food they donate that later spoils. Hallowed Grounds said they don’t have leftovers to donate, while Ex Libris and Harper Library’s Common Knowledge both close too late for the group’s 4:45 p.m. food drop-offs.

Annat Haber, a biology graduate student, came up with the idea to donate food left over from departmental meetings after joining Calvert House’s homeless food runs. “I shifted focus to collecting food from cafés at the start because it’s something stable,” he said.

Haber has also been making calls and sending e-mails to shelters in the area who might be interested in donations throughout the week. The group already has University Community Service Center van certification to drop the food off, but is looking for more students to help and more locations willing to donate.

Second-year Julie Huang said the Divinity School cafe throws out an estimated $400 to $500 of food a day. Huang, who is part of the Calvert House group, said the food is still individually packaged when placed in garbage bags.

Tristan Orozco, manager at the Divinity School coffee shop and graduate student in the Divinity School, said all of its food is sold to the café on consignment, so they only pay the restaurants for the units of food they sell. Whatever is left over must be thrown out, Orozco said, to avoid a health hazard.

Orozco left open the possibility of re-evaluating the policy with his suppliers. “It’s a conversation I’d be willing to have as long as we’re legally covered,” he said.

The USDA’s Good Samaritan regulations absolve donors of food made in “good faith to a non-profit organization for...needy individuals” of civil or criminal liability if the food appears “wholesome” when donated.

Richard Mott, owner of Plum Café which runs cafés in the BSLC, Stewart, and Classics buildings, among others, does not donate because there are few leftovers at each location, as food is distributed among the different stores on campus. Staff is allowed to take home any remaining food, Mott said, adding “usually we only have leftovers on Fridays because the stuff usually only has a two to three day shelf life.”

However, Mott said that if the group worked with Aramark and the student-run coffee shops on a larger scale to donate food, his cafés would join in. “[But] if someone’s coming and picking up one sandwich it’s a waste of time,” he said.