Todd Widmer and Claire Widmer, father-daughter volunteer duo, joined T2T in the early stage of our pandemic response. Since then, Claire and Todd have shown great versatility and flexibility as they have helped out on some of our regular food rescue routes, jumped in on several of our special routes, and have helped on both weekdays and weekends. Claire and Todd have demonstrated a consistent desire to be a positive influence here in the Johnson County community, and we are thankful for all their help.
Todd: Registered Nurse at UIHC in Surgical and Neurosciences ICU
Claire: Junior in high school
Where are you from?
When did you begin volunteering with Table to Table?
What’s one of your favorite memories from your time volunteering with Table to Table?
Every time we pick up and deliver a New Pioneer carrot cake, and the day we collected nearly 1600 pounds of food!
What is one thing you would tell new T2T volunteers when they’re first starting out?
They will be amazed about how much food we save.
What are your hobbies?
Todd: Watching and attending sporting events. Traveling. Family time.
Claire: Soccer, show choir and choir, flute, reading, traveling
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?
Todd: Réunion Island
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream (or favorite dessert)?
For the last six months, Ezra Schley has worked with Table to Table as our dedicated and helpful part-time Program Assistant, reliably launching our food rescue routes and leading operations each morning.
We’re excited to announce Ezra is transitioning to the full-time role of Program Coordinator, a brand-new position at Table to Table. The knowledge of Table to Table that he’s built up over the past six months, the positive relationships he’s made with volunteers, donors and recipients, and the innovations he’s brought to our processes have prepared him well for this new opportunity.
“This new position is helping us to have a greater capacity,” Ezra says of his new role. “It will allow Emily [Meister, our Food Rescue Program Manager] to do more programmatic development – growing our programs and diversifying them.” Ezra will be focusing on the day-to-day program logistics as well as organizing and analyzing food rescue data. “I will help develop, grow, and improve relationships with our partners. That’s an opportunity there – to thank partners for everything, see what’s working best, and see what we can do more of. We couldn’t do this without them.”
Ezra has a degree in Environmental Science and International Studies from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he was co-president of the Sustainability Club. Since graduation, he has served in various capacities with environmental and food insecurity focused nonprofits, including time as an AmeriCorps Sustainability Outreach Coordinator at the Tennessee Environmental Council, and as an intern with our food rescue neighbors to the west – Eat Greater Des Moines.
On a personal level, Ezra is excited to build upon his knowledge and enthusiasm for food rescue through his position. “I was interested in food rescue before I started at T2T, but over the past few months that interest has really grown, and now I’m passionate about it. Food rescue is such a complicated and interesting thing, and there’s so many voices to incorporate. I’m really excited to continue.”
Interview conducted by Patty Meier, Table to Table Board of Directors
As the pandemic stretches capacity and resources, DVIP continues to meet basic needs of those seeking shelter and support in crisis. As a long time partner DVIP has found ways to utilize rescued food to bolster their service offerings. Table to Table volunteers pack boxes of food for Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) nearly every day of the week, helping to ensure that DVIP can meet their clients’ basic needs.
“Table to Table helps us provide options in regard to food security,” says Elias Ortiz, the Director of Shelter and Youth Services at DVIP. T2T delivers food for immediate meal needs and also stocks the DVIP food pantry, which serves a broader group of clients beyond those in need of immediate shelter.
DVIP provides comprehensive support and advocacy services to victim survivors, focusing on immediate and long-term safety, empowerment, dignity, and hope. “Our mission is to empower individuals,” says Ortiz. “The gateway to DVIP services is the crisis line, so our primary audience is intimate partner violence.”
DVIP serves eight counties – District 6 in the state’s new system of funding domestic violence services. “State funding cuts have led to the elimination of domestic violence shelters from 32 to 8 statewide,” says Ortiz. The eight remaining shelters have to serve more people and compete for reduced funding, which is part of why DVIP expanded to additional counties.
“The [multi-county expansion] has brought challenges in establishing rapport, building trust, providing transportation, etc,” Ortiz says.
DVIP can build rapport and trust with individuals by immediately helping them stabilize, meet their basic needs, and help them maintain dignity through crisis. By building foundational trust, DVIP can then begin addressing clients’ trauma. The organization seeks out partnerships that can help meet essential needs and stretch their financial funding, allowing them to focus on their primary supportive services.
DVIP’s shelter is open 24/7, 365 days a year, serving 360 individuals in an average year. The shelter is always full. As soon as someone moves out, someone else moves in that same day. “Even more so during the pandemic, tensions at home are higher, and there are fewer places to go,” Ortiz explains. More than half of the individuals living in the shelter are under 18, with most of them being age six and younger. They often come in with only the clothes they are wearing.
DVIP has had to reduce their shelter capacity this past year due to COVID to allow for social distancing measures. Because of capacity limitations, DVIP sometimes utilizes hotel shelters for survivors. Partnership with T2T has been helping the organization meet basic food needs differently. Food collected and delivered by Table to Table can go with the families to hotel rooms. T2T has placed an emphasis on funneling more microwavable meals collected from food rescue routes to support families sheltering in hotels.
Ortiz has noticed that since the beginning of the pandemic in Johnson County, local nonprofits have learned how to be creative in their communications with each other to collectively meet the needs of the community they serve. In addition, they’ve learned to provide services in different ways to meet client needs, and DVIP is no exception. Ortiz and his staff have developed a “bed and breakfast” arrangement for some clients that allows them to stay with individuals in private homes, where they have a room and food provided and are able to stay close to their home.
“We [are serving] so many people right now that have been impacted not just by COVID, but also from losing jobs, or are under stress because there are fewer places … to be connected,” Ortiz says. “T2T is not just providing food items, but providing options for people to be safe.”
We thank DVIP for the important work they are doing to help our neighbors and for partnering with us to strengthen their services for survivors.
Thursday, Feb. 25 is DVIP’s 24th Annual Souper Bowl, reimagined to keep everybody safe in light of Covid-19. Learn more here.
Many of our regular food rescue volunteers have stepped up to do more than ever before during the COVID-19 crisis, rescuing food on several routes per week and bringing their friends and families along to help. These individuals ensure that our program continues operating and ease onboarding the influx of new emergency volunteers with their experience and willingness to adapt. Several volunteers have also offered to be on call in case we need to fill a route or if a special mission comes up. Thanks to their efforts, we can establish a sense of familiarity with our restructured routes for both regular and new volunteers.
Our volunteers are truly our #helpers in time of great need.
By Rachel Gentile, Student in the University of Iowa Career Leadership Academy
According to The National Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away nearly 200 pounds of food annually. This accounts for 43% of all food waste in America, more than grocery stores and restaurants combined. And as you might expect, household food waste is at an all-time high during the holiday season.
With so many delicious foods to enjoy during the holiday season, how do you decide which dish to cook? It’s so hard to choose a favorite dish, so why not make them all — right? This may be our natural response, but it only leaves us with mountains of leftovers that usually get thrown away.
We’ve put together a few tips to eliminate, repurpose, and prolong the life of food from the festive holiday season!
Proper portion sizes
Come the holiday season, it is hard to estimate how much everyone is going to eat. However, the website savethefood.com has an interactive “Guest-Imator,” which is a handy tool that helps you plan how much food to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner. You simply input how many people you are expecting, how many leftovers you want, and the type of meal (accommodating any food restrictions). The Guest-Imator then generates a recommended portion of meat, vegetables, casseroles, side dishes, and, of course, dessert! This easy online tool helps take stress out of the holiday season and finalize a menu just for you and your family.
We have all experienced the dreaded moment you realize you have forgotten an ingredient for Thanksgiving dinner. Last-minute trips to the grocery store on Thanksgiving Day are nothing short of chaotic! Everyone is bustling through the aisles grabbing the last cans of cranberries and green beans – what a mess!
This is why it is so important to do your holiday shopping early and learn how to store your food properly until the big day. This will help keep you and your food fresh and fun.
We hope these resources save you from having to wait in a checkout line that lasts longer than your anticipated holiday dinner.
While eating a Thanksgiving meal is exciting, multiple leftover dinners can become a bit boring. Let’s learn to repurpose and invigorate great side-dishes into a fresh new meal!
Check out our Youtube page for lots of helpful videos where our Food Rescue Program Manager, Emily, takes you through a few of her favorite recipes that help use up those otherwise commonly-wasted ingredients. Read more about her food-saving recipes and tips here: https://table2table.org/10-meals-excess-ingredient/
This #GivingTuesday, I’m raising funds for local food rescue Table to Table. T2T recovers excess food from grocery stores, farms, & restaurants and delivers it to hunger relief agencies. Since March, T2T has served 14,800 people through recipient partners. Access to fresh, healthy food is always needed, but this year especially T2T’s food rescue operations have been critical for many of our neighbors.
T2T has rescued over 22 million pounds of food since 1996 — 2.3 million pounds just this past year. Will you help me support Table to Table’s work by making a donation today?
As a way to increase our fresh food recovery efforts, this summer we kicked off our local farm gleaning program with Blueyah Blueberry Farm near Iowa City. The family-owned farm typically allows visitors to pick their homegrown blueberries to take home and enjoy, but they changed things up a bit this year.
“We were hesitant to open our farm to the public this summer, even with COVID precautions in place—but we also didn’t want to ‘donate’ our entire blueberry crop to the birds and raccoons. When we asked our customers what they thought we should do, someone mentioned Table to Table’s new gleaning program, and it was the perfect solution,” say Jenna and Eric, the farmers at Blueyah. “Not only does Table to Table serve the entire county, but they also recruit and train berry-picking volunteers. Plus, they’re staffed by some of the kindest, most generous people we’ve ever met. Now, our fresh blueberries are finding their way to people who need them, instead of to the local bluejays (who don’t).”
We gleaned 70 pounds of blueberries at Blueyah this season – which is A LOT of blueberries! Gleaning volunteers picked the berries, then portioned them into individual containers for easy distribution at food pantries. Local families could enjoy a package of fresh blueberries grown just a few miles away. Plus, blueberries are packed with antioxidants – making them a very healthy snack. Thanks to Jenna and Eric’s generosity and our gleaning volunteers’ hard work harvesting the berries, many of our neighbors who don’t have affordable access to fresh produce enjoyed nutritious local blueberries this summer.
It’s been another unbelievable week for our community, and we hope this note finds you and your family safe and well.
We want to keep you updated about Table to Table’s efforts as tough times get tougher. First, I just wanted to take a moment and thank the T2T team for stepping up, EVEN MORE, to go above and beyond our everyday mission. The morning after the storm, with communications still down, we weren’t sure what resources we’d have for food rescue. Even with damage to their own homes and their power still out, Table to Table volunteers showed up anyway. By now, this dedication probably doesn’t surprise you, but it is uncommon and we won’t ever take it for granted. If you know a T2T volunteer or if you see one out on a route, please give them a kind word of appreciation or a socially distanced high-five. They are heroes.
Food Loss and Replenishment
In the first days after the storm, T2T deployed resources across Iowa City (and even to Cedar Rapids) to help partners continue serving our neighbors. After so many hours of power outage the evening of August 10 and beyond, many of our partner grocery stores had to throw away thousands of pounds of food. Because of this, food rescue was light in the first day after the storm. Fortunately, we found other sources of food and other ways to help.
CommUnity Food Bank borrowed the T2T 22-foot refrigerated truck to keep food cold until power came back on. CommUnity Director of External Relations Michelle Cole reports,
“We have plenty of food in the Food Bank, thanks to the generosity of Table to Table. During the power outage, they lent us their refrigerated truck, and we were able to save the majority of the food from our full cooler and freezer. We are so grateful to them for this act of community.”
Some partners were unable to save their fresh food. As we kept running food rescue routes amidst the chaos, T2T was able to replenish stocks. North Liberty Pantry shared,
“This week (and really every week), we are SO thankful for the wonderfully dedicated staff and volunteers at Table to Table for helping fill our fridge after derecho took out power on Monday. It’s been a trying year and we’re grateful for all the helpers.”
Additional Rescue Opportunities
While grocers were still out of power, they declined shipments of fresh food from vendors. We were able to recover more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce from these rejected deliveries.
Juliann, T2T Gleaning Program Coordinator, headed to Cedar Rapids to help farming nonprofit Feed Iowa First get veggies out of their cooler and deliver them to the Coralville Food Pantry.
Hot Meals and Parking Lot Pantries
With a downed power line on their building, IC Compassion had no access to their facility or the food/supply resources inside. Wednesday morning, T2T delivered fresh food, refrigerated vehicles, and tables to help them set up shop in their parking lot. We were even able to store perishable food back at T2T headquarters overnight and return the next day. IC Compassion served more than 200 families this week, many of whom had been out of power for days.
On Wednesday, Elder Services requested assistance getting some emergency meals to a senior living community without power. Thanks to Pullman Bar & Diner, a stand-out in our amazing local restaurant community, T2T delivered 25 HOT meals within a couple hours of the request. This was made possible by the network established through the COVID-response Food With Love Project and the Community Foundation of Johnson County.
Continuing Support for Recovery
Gardeners and growers are dropping off produce and fruit recovered after the storm. And we received a call to rescue another couple thousand pounds of chicken, which we will be distributing in the coming weeks.
We also lent T2T vehicles and supplies to Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter and North Liberty City Council member RaQuishia Harrington to make relief deliveries to Cedar Rapids the weekend of August 15-16.
Did I mention we only canceled one route through all of this?
I think we’ll all be happy to see the backside of 2020, but we are certainly grateful to have the best team and your support to get us through.
The Iowa City Masonic Foundation really came through for the hunger relief network in our community and the 19,000 people that we fed this year. The IC Masonic Foundation match of $12,500 in donations kept the wheels turning on Table to Table’s 2.5 million pound food rescue operation.
In the span of a year, our two oldest food rescue vehicles reached the end of their utility after rescuing several millions of pounds of food during their tenure. Our vehicles are essential to route-based food rescue, daily delivering free food to area hunger relief partners. So, when we lost each vehicle, we used operating funds to purchase a replacement. This match challenge has doubled the impact and enabled us to fully fund the 2019 Ford Transit we’ve been using since July 2019. This food rescue vehicle has transported over 209,000 pounds of food from donor partners to local hunger relief organizations. Route volunteers have driven it over 5,300 miles on approximately 300 routes so far.
With a team of more than 400 volunteers and our fleet of eight food rescue vehicles, we rescued 2.5 million pounds of food in Johnson County last year. Wholesome food from more than 80 donor organizations was delivered to over 50 recipient hunger relief agencies serving 19,000 Johnson County residents struggling with food insecurity. We certainly couldn’t accomplish this feat without our outstanding volunteers and the community’s gracious support. Because of your $25,000 investment we will continue this good work with a vehicle that will deliver food for another 15 years.
You can make more than just alphabet soup from these commonly wasted ingredients!
By: Emily Meister
I’ve just been waiting for someone to ask me for my food rescue recommendations. Now that I’ve gotten started, it’s hard to stop! Here, I’ve compiled a list of many of the ingredients I rescue regularly and keep in my freezer.
Flash freezing is the secret to much of my food waste management. You’ll want to do this especially if it’s something you don’t want to use all at once or you don’t want it freezing in a big clump. Just lay the food out, unwrapped, on a cookie sheet. Put it into the freezer for a short time—twenty minutes or so—until it hardens. Once it’s frozen solid, you can store it in a bag or a container, and individual pieces will stay mostly separated. You can then just pull out whatever amount you need.
Apples I don’t know about you, but I find half-eaten apples around my house regularly – apples the kiddos took a few bites of and left. I even rescue these half-eaten fruits. I rinse them, cut off the bitey parts, and cube up for a snack or put in the freezer to add to smoothies. You can do this with slightly mushy yet uneaten apples, too. You don’t have to take a bite of it first, I guess.
Bananas: We all know frozen brown bananas make great banana bread, but how many people keep tossing brown banana after brown banana into the freezer for this purpose and never make that much banana bread?
Bananas are also great in smoothies! Just plop the whole frozen banana in the freezer when it’s past its prime (I have a section of my freezer dedicated to this). Blend it up with fresh or frozen yogurt, a little honey, and any other frozen fruit or veggies you like – either store-bought or fruits and veggies you’ve saved in the freezer.
Mushy bananas that are not great for snacking are great blended into a homemade banana oat pancake mix. Super simple, delicious, and nutritious.
T2T Tip: When you’re ready to peel your frozen bananas, put them in a bowl of really hot water for 30 seconds and the peel will slip right off.
Cauliflower that’s turning brown is great chopped up in curries. You can also mash or rice it, then freeze it for a ready-to-go side dish anytime.
Bell Peppers – A versatile veggie that freezes well! Chop and freeze for soups, stir-fry, curries, or tacos.
Broccoli stems make an excellent addition to a slaw. Throw them in your ramen, on top of a baked potato, even on pizza!
Canned almost anything: There are many times a recipe calls for only part of a can. You can store and freeze almost anything by putting the remainder into small containers.
Coconut Milk is a good example of a canned item I freeze often, is coconut milk. You can use an ice cube tray and then store in a bag or container. Add a cube or two to your stir-fry right at the end for a richer flavor.
Cherry Tomatoes: Even cherry tomatoes can make a quick sauce if you have too many. Rinse, dump in a pan and mash slightly. Cook down for 15-20 minutes, season, and then blend, and freeze. I do this when my cherry tomatoes have gone wrinkly, but are not rotted. The active time cooking is under 5 minutes, so even if there’s only enough for a small amount, you can take out a few frozen containers when you’re ready to put it into a meal.
Green Chilis or Chipotle in Adobo: Mostly, I think my family is a bunch of weenies when it comes to spicy food. Personally, I’d just add the whole can to any dish, but if that’s too spicy for you or your family, just use what you need and put the rest in the freezer. They’ll last quite a while.
Pumpkin: When you add a small amount – ½ cup or so – of canned pumpkin to soups or stews, the pumpkin flavor won’t take over but adds a nice creamy texture and deep flavor. Whenever I open a can of pumpkin but don’t use it all, I pop the rest in the freezer and add to dishes as needed. Pumpkin pancakes are another great use for canned pumpkin! I always make lots of extra mini pancakes and freeze them. Pull a few out of the freezer, cook them in the oven for a couple minutes and add jam for a quick and tasty breakfast.
Rhubarb: when it’s ready to harvest, you get a lot! Good news is that it’s fairly easy to preserve. Cook down with a tablespoon of water, a pinch of salt, and sugar to taste. It makes a yummy sauce for ice cream or yogurt. You can also mix with other fruits like the soggy strawberries below.
Soggy Strawberries can make some recipes better. Cut them roughly and cook them down into a quick sauce topping. It only takes a couple of minutes on the stove. The overripe fruit is perfect because it will be very sweet and the sauce won’t require any added sugar.
Rinse, flash freeze, add to your stock of smoothie ingredients in your freezer.
Stir strawberries, soggy or not, into plain yogurt. (This way you can buy a large tub of plain yogurt and flavor it any way you like. Crushing up a bit of the lemon biscotti from Paglias would make a tasty topping too!)
Also, a good topping for ice cream or thicken it up a bit by cooking longer and you have a simple homemade jam.
Tomatoes: you can freeze the whole tomato, no prep, if you’re really in a hurry. Really, just place the whole thing in there and when you’re ready to use it, thaw slightly and the skin will come off easily. Then it’s ready for soups or marinara.
Tomato Paste – I like to freeze this flat in a bag or on a cookie sheet. Then just break off however much you need.
Veg Heavy Tomato/Pasta Sauce – I like to make a big batch of pasta sauce with LOTS of veggies to freeze. It’s a good way to utilize lots of tomatoes and other veg in your fridge. Chop up onions, red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (if I use green, I use only a small amount because the flavor can take over), celery, carrots, zucchini, and even a few stray mushrooms. Simmer and cook down until all veggies are tender then blend until smooth in a food processor or blender. For seasonings, I add basil, oregano, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper. A really small pinch of cinnamon adds a warm flavor to the sauce. Depending on how sweet and flavorful the tomatoes that you use are, you can also add a little sugar or honey as needed.
Wrinkly Grapes: When the grapes get sad and wrinkly, they get neglected in the fridge. Rinse and place in a bag or container in the freezer. They make a great cold, refreshing snack and it doesn’t matter if they were wrinkly or soft once they’re frozen. Also, a good smoothie ingredient!
Yogurt: You should freeze some yogurt, rescued or not! Put into individual containers in the freezer to use later in smoothies. If it’s a large container, spread on a cookie sheet, freeze, then break up and store the chunks in a plastic bag.
Zucchini are the end of summer excess no one knows what to do with. You can only eat so much zucchini bread. I don’t find that zucchini freezes well whole, but if you chop and even partially cook then freeze, you can blend into vegetable soup or cube for a creamy addition to any fruit smoothie!