Waste Not, Want Not

A canceled event offers a real-life example of how donating food to those in need is easier than many planners and venue managers may think.

lunch_servingsThis past January, Jeannie Power, CMP, co-founder of Power Event Group, was on site in Miami, preparing for a financial-sector meeting. Outside Power’s hotel room, the temperature was a balmy 80 degrees. Meanwhile, in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast — where all the attendees were traveling from — a major blizzard was gathering strength. Their flights were canceled; the meeting followed suit.

Among the loose ends that Power — contracted for this event by Strategic Meetings & Events — had to tie up was F&B. What to do with the hundreds of pounds of food that had been ordered for the two-and-a-half-day event? “We were able to cancel some of the food after lunch on the first full day,” she said, “but there was food that had been prepared for a reception, a breakfast, and a lunch.”

Fortunately, Power was in a unique position to put those meals to good use. In her former role at event-technology company EventMobi, Power had worked with hunger think tank Rock and Wrap It Up! (RWU) to develop the Whole Earth Calculator mobile app. (We wrote about the app in our April 2014 issue.) So she went to RWU’s website and used the Hungerpedia search tool, a resource that matches food donors with agencies in need. Then she reached out to RWU’s founder, Syd Mandelbaum, and Meeting U. President James Spellos, CMP, RWU’s volunteer IT director and board member. “I wanted to make sure they didn’t have any recommendations beyond what I saw on Hungerpedia,” Power said.

Mandelbaum and Spellos connected her with the Miami Rescue Mission, which arranged to pick up the approximately 540 pounds of food to serve at its homeless shelter. According to the Whole Earth Calculator, the food equaled 415 meals.

Power is quick to point out that the entire process was easy, and not because she’s in the know. Unfortunately, she’s found that many of her colleagues don’t make the effort to donate leftover food because they think it’s too complicated — or that it would make their organizations liable to lawsuits.

Indeed, Spellos told Convene, many in the industry remain unaware of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Signed into U.S. law in 1996, the Act removes any legal liability for organizations and their food suppliers “if they donate food that is prepared but not served, and connect with an organization that is charitable,” he said.

RWU vets charities to ensure that they “have the necessary equipment to take the donations and serve them safely,” Power said, and many of charities can pick up the food as well. “Event planners and hotels — individuals, venues, and caterers,” she said, “need to know that this is not something that’s going to require a lot of effort on their part.”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.