“If enough people stepped up, we could put a dent in food insecurity.”

Think about all the meals you’ve eaten this week. Now think about how much you threw away because you were way too full, you cooked too much, or maybe it wasn’t worth saving. This is food waste and it’s a huge problem. Sadly it’s also staggeringly common, so much so that 40% of food in the US is thrown away. This waste goes straight to landfills, which are responsible for 1/6 of our methane gas emissions.

What is also common is food insecurity, a problem wherein people don’t know where their next meal will come from. We are all too familiar with this as a society; we know that hunger is an issue. Donating to food drives and volunteering at soup kitchens are normal for us because we know there are so many families in need. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and they’re right: 18.4% of Texas households experience food insecurity, placing us third in the nation.

JenniferJames_blog_pictureI got a chance to sit down with Jennifer James, Logistics Director for Keep Austin Fed, to talk about her experiences with the food rescue organization and how she got her start there. For her, these problems were a “no-brainer”. We have all this perfectly edible food, and we have so many hungry families –  let’s feed them! Jennifer’s journey with KAF began about three years ago in a community college philosophy class. While dedicating her time to homeschooling her three children, Jennifer became involved with various volunteer opportunities. At the same time, Jennifer decided to go back to school and finish her bachelor’s degree in accounting, a choice she described as both setting an example for her children, as well as doing something for herself.

Jennifer’s professor gave the class two options for a project: write a research paper OR do a community service project with a final reflection essay on the experience. With her history of getting involved in the community, Jennifer opted for the service project and volunteered six hours that semester with Keep Austin Fed. On her first food run with the organization to a local grocery store, she recalls her “mouth dropping because of all the food [the store] would’ve thrown away had [they] not been there to pick it up.” Jennifer then came to the big conclusion: we don’t have a food production problem, we have a food distribution problem.

After writing the reflection paper and finishing up her class, Jennifer continued to work with KAF in big part because of the two-fold pay off, helping people with food insecurity and helping the environment. She is persevering toward completing her degree at Texas State University while also continuing to homeschool her youngest. Jennifer describes herself as always getting involved with whatever she’s interested in, and working with KAF was no exception as “opportunities kept opening up” to support their mission further.

Her passion for this cause was obvious throughout our conversation, and she believes it can be obvious to others as well, since it’s really difficult to believe  “anyone who would be okay with children going hungry.” According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans have to fulfill their physiological needs, like hunger, in order to be able to fulfill higher needs like education, social stability, and self-confidence. It makes complete sense, and that is what  Keep Austin Fed is trying to do by reaching out to schools so they can identify families who might be suffering from food insecurity. She is also a firm believer in the power of the next generation to help solve these pervasive problems: “the more our kids know about this, the more they can carry it forward.”

Sitting down with our community partners to find out why they do what they do is important to all of us here at GivePulse. We want to help them do more for their community as much as we can. Jennifer let us know how KAF could save more food in two ways: more volunteers and a large  facility.

Keep Austin Fed “can always find donors and recipients…but the limitation on saving more food is volunteers.”  Using GivePulse as their platform for volunteer management, Jennifer is able to easily view on her calendar which food runs are filled and which still need volunteers. The biggest part of her job is making sure there is a volunteer for each run and she is constantly reaching out to current volunteers to insure each recipient receives their share. When things get a bit overwhelming, Jennifer understands “you can’t save all the food”, but doing what you can is so important. Food waste and insecurity is a collective problem requiring a collective impact, but Jennifer believes “if enough people stepped up, we could put a dent in food insecurity.” Click here for more information on how to do what you can to help KAF move the needle on these issues.

With all the time and resources in the world, Jennifer’s dream for KAF would be “one big building with lots of freezers, a conference room for bigger orientations, and a party room for volunteers to get together every few months.” Increasing the longevity of the end-of-life food they pick up, holding larger orientations to accommodate more potential volunteers, and hosting get-togethers for current volunteers to inform them how they can be more involved could all greatly increase the amount of food KAF is able to save and the number of families they can feed. Click here to donate and help support these dreams.

 

Keep Austin Fed is a kind neighbor and client of GivePulse. We highlight our community partners in this “Why I Give” blog series to showcase why they are passionate about their work and ultimately inspire others to be passionate as well. For more information on how your organization can utilize our platform or to be featured in this series, reach out to us at blog@givepulse.com.

“I care about the place that I live.”

The community partners we work with each have unique missions, but we believe the reason they do this work is just as important as the work itself. The people who dedicate their time and knowledge to make positive impacts in their community all have strong motivating factors for being in the nonprofit sector because let’s be honest, the draw isn’t exactly in the earning potential. Passion for a cause is what drives these individuals to do what they do and each one of them has a story.

Allison.siteFor Allison Watkins, Chief Strategy Officer for the Austin Parks Foundation, her “why” begins not in the nonprofit sector, but rather in the glittery world of advertising. While completing her Masters degree in Advertising at the University of Texas at Austin, Allison realized that copywriting and the corporate world didn’t provide the fulfillment of doing work she was truly passionate about. Working with the LIVESTRONG Foundation (formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation), however, did just that. She was interested in creating awareness for cancer support services as her father is a survivor,  and she “could see everyday that they were doing good work and impacting people’s lives.” After dedicating nearly 12 years to LIVESTRONG, she dabbled in for-profit consulting before joining the team at Austin Parks Foundation.

APF started off nearly 25 years ago as a group of passionate conservationists, environmentalists, and volunteers; people who Allison describes as “folks that wanted to get their hands dirty.” They wanted to relieve some of the burden of maintaining Austin’s expansive park system from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and with this goal the Foundation was born.

As a third generation Austinite, now with a family of her own, Allison feels a unique draw to its outdoor spaces and enjoys working to preserve these areas that the city is so well-known for. Transitioning from the global impact of cancer survivorship  to the local impact of APF was an important step for her in order to see a tangible, quantifiable effect on her own community. There is definitely something to be said for walking through any green space and knowing you had a hand in preserving it for everyone to enjoy, as an administrator or a volunteer. APF utilizes thousands of volunteers every year to beautify and maintain the spaces under their care, and one of their biggest volunteer engagement events is their annual It’s My Park Day. This was Allison’s first event with APF, as well as the foundation’s first event utilizing the GivePulse platform.

The record-setting 14th Annual It’s My Park Day was a huge success, and for Allison it “was overwhelming to see Austinites’ involvement in [APF’s] mission and their desire to take time to invest in their local parks, trails, and green spaces.” APF was able to coordinate over 3,500 volunteers, 115 projects, and 14,000 hours of work for their most impactful It’s My Park Day yet. The time and work that was donated by community members equated a financial investment of $215,240 in park labor, which goes to show just how strong of an effect volunteer work can have in improving the green spaces in your own backyard. By utilizing GivePulse for the first time, APF was able to delegate leadership to those volunteers that want to be as involved as possible in supporting their mission by empowering their “super volunteers” to submit project proposals online and have those proposals reviewed by both APF and Austin Parks and Recreation Department. This enabled APF administrators to have more time to do outreach and promotion, and culminated in a successful and impactful event for everyone involved. For more information on APF’s It’s My Park Day 2016 and how to get involved for next year, click here.

Overall, Allison’s “why” is simple and something I think we can all relate to: “I care about the place that I live.” We all enjoy the green spaces we have around us, whether it’s your favorite hiking trail or metropolitan park, or even the playground in your neighborhood. It’s essential to acknowledge the resources and commitment it takes to preserve these outdoor areas, as well dedicate what time and funds we can to make a difference in our own backyard. In Allison’s words, “the world works when people get involved.”

The Austin Parks Foundation is a kind neighbor and client of GivePulse. To learn more about how they utilize our platform, enjoy our video. For more information on volunteering, click here.