We’re excited to introduce you to our new Local Gleaning Coordinator, Nora Garda.
Nora grew up in Argentina and has many fond memories of her childhood there. One of her earliest food memories is that of the smell of her grandmother’s polenta, made with warm milk and cheese, wafting through the house when Nora returned from school. To reduce food waste and make the most of limited resources, Nora’s family shopped at the market daily and prepared meals with fresh ingredients. These memories have impacted Nora and fueled a life-long appreciation for fresh foods and a desire to combat food waste.
Nora completed her undergraduate degree, a BS in analytical chemistry and a BA in dance, in Argentina. After getting her undergraduate degree Nora moved to the United States and earned a Masters in Analytical Chemistry from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Eventually, she found her way to Iowa City where she recently retired after 28 years working as a Senior Chemist testing the efficacy and stability of new compounds for pharmaceutical companies. However, if you recognize Nora, it’s most likely not because of her career as a chemist but because of her community involvement stemming from her love of dance. While she’s classically trained in ballet, Nora’s true passion is modern dance, and she has spearheaded numerous community projects related to dance.
Nora will be serving for 9 months as an AmeriCorps member with Table to Table’s gleaning program. Nora is eager to lead harvests this summer so that she can provide people with fresh produce like she remembers having access to as a young girl. As she says, “I strongly believe in not wasting food. Fresh produce is nutritious and yummy! Why let it go bad in the fields when so many can benefit from it?”
We love Nora’s enthusiasm and energy and look forward to her applying her passion for fresh produce to our gleaning program. On a personal note, I am hoping that she is willing to share grandma’s polenta recipe!
Introduction written by Jared Long
As we wrap up volunteer appreciation month, we can’t think of a better way to express our appreciation for our fantastic volunteers than by sharing stories from their T2T volunteer shifts in April. These stories illustrate volunteers’ resourcefulness, good humor, and enthusiasm to go above and beyond in the name of food rescue. We truly could not recover nearly 2.5 million pounds of food each year without them.
Just last weekend, volunteer Michelle Hills finished her regular food rescue route collecting a few hundred pounds of food. While she was out, another volunteer called in and couldn’t do their route. Michelle noticed when she got back from her regular route that nobody had recorded any donations for that route and offered to do that one too! Without her, we may have lost the opportunity to deliver more produce, meat, and a variety of other foods to Coralville Community Pantry that morning.
Mary Palmberg and Nancy Weber picked up a huge haul at Walmart & Costco a couple of weeks ago. Mary says, “No surprise that we barely — and only due to our years of practice — fit all that frozen bakery and (heavy) frozen meat into the cooler section [of the van].” On top of that, they received lots of whole pineapples.
At the next stop, a couple of hundred pounds of charcoal briquettes! So, upon delivery, Mary made a deal: “We told Hải at the Coralville Pantry that she could have some of those nice pineapples if she took some charcoal briquettes…the number of pineapples dependent on the number of 20# bags of charcoal. She laughed — though she also took charcoal along with her pineapples.”
The good-natured flexibility of our partners to accept whatever crazy variety of food (and BBQ accouterments) that arrive on the truck is key to our success. “We were amazed that we’d passed off all the charcoal — and everything else — by the end of the route,” Mary says.
We’re impressed by the packing and sorting skills our veteran volunteers have. It’s an underrated talent that ensures no fruit is left behind!
On another of what Mary calls an “exciting & rewarding day on the road”, it was looking like a “light” food rescue day with two carts of grocery, meat, and bakery…until a very helpful and friendly store employee, Taveon, led the team back to a cooler with towers of cabbage and bananas. So many, it warranted a call back to base to see if T2T had the capacity. After getting the affirmative, they had to do their magic again to fit everything in the van. On their way out, Mary asked about a cart of miscellaneous items including toys and Easter baskets that weren’t for sale anymore, so they took those too! Hải Huỳnh, Coralville Pantry Community Projects Coordinator, shared with the volunteers that those extra toys and gifts they asked for would be put in birthday bags for kids.
Mary and Nancy made stops at North Liberty Pantry and HACAP Head Start and then an additional stop at Shelter House where they delivered a box of bananas and quite a few cabbages. The cook was excited about preparing the cabbages for dinner that evening.
T2T recipient partners and our volunteers are truly remarkable, and it’s clear that the admiration is mutual. Mary and Nancy return from their route celebrating their interactions with Hải: “What a super (& strong!) woman she is!” and, “She’s fantastic!”
Kenn & Pat Bowen, volunteers since this past September, shared photos of their beautiful haul from New Pioneer Coop. Fresh veggies and healthy prepared foods were a welcome and delightful delivery that day!
And finally, volunteer Charlotte Fairlie passed along an impactful message she received from a community member as she was picking up food at a stop on her route just a few days ago:
“A woman rolled down her window as she was pulling out of her parking space and said,
‘I just want to thank all of you for everything you are doing and all the work you put in. I have been in the position of having to use your services, and I want you to know how valuable it is and how much it’s appreciated.’”
As Charlotte says, “Her message is for all of us.”
This week marks Emily Meister’s 5 year anniversary as a member of the Table to Table staff. Emily originally joined the team as a food rescue route volunteer in 2015 and transitioned from part-time staff to Food Rescue Program Manager in 2017. She’s brought her compassionate manner and dedication to eliminating food waste to each of her roles at T2T.
With Emily at the helm of route logistics and donor/client relations, we’ve increased food distribution from 1.8 million pounds of food to 2.4 million pounds each year. She has increased our number of regular food rescue routes by 25% and led several new initiatives that contribute to this incredible growth. These initiatives include expanding food sourcing opportunities to include the entire life cycle of food, from harvesting directly from farms and gardens to building relationships with food transport drivers who pass by Iowa City regularly and recovering food directly from food processors like Old Capitol Food Company, local creameries, and meat processors.
Through her strong relationships with our community partners, Emily sees the impact wholesome food can have on our neighbors,
“Table to Table serves a youth program that said they had never given the kids zucchini, but they’d try it. Now, they take some every time we have it. A local mental health service said that feeding people encourages them to attend group support that they need. They may not have come otherwise. The domestic violence shelter helps people stabilize by providing for their basic needs so residents can focus on accessing critical support services. A few years ago when we increased our deliveries to the shelter, they were able to hire staff with money saved from T2T food deliveries.”
When you hear her talk about food waste, it’s easy to see what drives her.
“We can make an impact far beyond the environmental implications or simply putting food in someone’s belly. This is not just wasted food, but a wasted opportunity. An opportunity to provide safety and comfort to individuals in maybe the worst situation they’ve ever been in. An opportunity to provide stability and companionship to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. An opportunity to expand kids’ food repertoire and potentially impact their good choices and overall health for the rest of their lives. That’s a big deal. We can play our part in that by striving to do this one thing–recover good quality food.”
In her time at T2T, Emily has seized every opportunity to improve services and expand access to food throughout Johnson County.
Check out her tips for rescuing your fridge food, making the most of leftovers, or watch her prep a delicious tuna salad with “ugly” produce.
Want to talk more about the food rescue operation at Table to Table? Shoot Emily an email anytime or call 319-337-3400.
Please join us in welcoming a new member of our team, Alex Courtney, who will be serving as our AmeriCorps Data Systems Coordinator for a year.
To understand Alex’s important role, a little recent history is in order. In 2019, Table to Table staff and leaders identified our current data management system as one of our biggest barriers. We’re tracking 2.5 million pounds of 10,000+ pick-ups and deliveries and 150 partnerships on paper and in Excel. Our 3-year strategic plan prioritizes new organization-wide software to help us overcome our infrastructure barriers and improve our food rescue operations. Alex is going to bring us from spreadsheets and paper into the 21st century. He will help us connect with our partners and volunteers easier and make all the data we collect more accessible and actionable.
Alex recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. He came to Table to Table in the summer of 2020 looking for a project that would use his skill set to do good and advance the mission. At that time, we were piloting a new mobile app that would help local gardeners donate their excess produce. As a volunteer, Alex helped us test and set up the app which we will be using for a second upcoming season. Impressed with his initiative on the first project, we invited him to join us for a new project as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. VISTA members commit to serving in a volunteer capacity full-time for a year. We were thrilled he agreed to join us and make this incredible commitment.
Alex is an aspiring software engineer. Now, three months into the project, it’s clear his experience is well suited to helping us identify a good fit for our software needs and leading us through the implementation process. Of his programming work, Alex says, “It’s construction by iteration. There’s always something to be improved upon if you’ve got the gumption to do it.” That’s one of the things that makes him a great fit for Table to Table – we’re always iterating and improving on the work of food rescue. This project to upgrade our systems is evidence of that.
Alex is a lifelong resident of Iowa City. As an Eagle Scout, Alex participated in service projects like Scouting for Food where he collected canned goods door to door and donated them to local food pantries. As an adult, he became acquainted with the T2T mission through his wife Bernice, who has been a route and committee volunteer for several years. This last year has helped Alex see the scope of hunger relief work. “Through involvement with Table to Table I have been able to see where that food ends up and the needs of people out there, especially during COVID, “ Alex explains. “I hope this [software project] will relieve the administrative burden on the staff and they can spend their time more efficiently and that we build a lasting solution, a software that helps them work together using data from all places.”
We’re happy to report that we’ve recruited another lover of food and food memories. T2T staff and volunteers often commiserate and connect over food favorites and after just a short couple of months, Alex is ready to collect new entries for a T2T recipe book. He is famous for his spicy Chex mix recipe and he’ll let you in on the secret, it’s fresh garlic and hot peppers. No word yet if the complete recipe will be in the next Recipes to the Rescue recipe book.
Twenty-five years ago retired teacher and leader, Frank Lalor, helped found Table to Table, Iowa’s first food rescue organization. Imagine, wrapping up an incredible career as an educator and deciding to dedicate the next 25 years to improving the community in a new way. Table to Table has been yet another educational endeavor for Frank, a lifelong learner. What is a community food rescue program, if not first and foremost an endeavor to educate people on food waste and hunger?
Together, Frank and a group of community leaders sought to alleviate hunger in our community while also reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Frank speaks of its inception as “merely a good idea whose time had come.” Frank’s son, Jerry, remembers that first donor phone call in Frank and Jeanette’s kitchen when Frank exclaimed “Hot Dog! We got one!”
Since his first delivery in the family station wagon in 1996, Frank’s passion and commitment to the work has never waned. He has continued to work with Table to Table in our daily mission, serving as the liaison to Iowa City Free Lunch Program and collecting ingredients for a well-rounded meal for more than 100 Free Lunch diners per day. He also delivers donations from key partners and has delivered more than 60,000 pounds of food a year on his routes. Most years, Table to Table rescued food 365 days because Frank showed up every single day to deliver any food remaining in storage. Empty refrigerators at T2T are a hallmark of the operation. We built upon Frank’s example to ensure all of the food we collect is delivered to people who will eat it by the end of the day.
Over the years, Frank has helped build a coalition of 50 nonprofit partners, 100+ food donors, and hundreds of community volunteers. At the end of each year, staff have come to look forward to Frank’s short retrospective,
“It’s been another good year! We filled all 365 days with at least one pick-up and delivery. Congratulations to us all–staff and volunteers–for this remarkable and satisfying achievement! We have done well in meeting our mission: of collecting and distributing food for the hungry, homeless, and others at risk.”
Buoyed by his constant encouragement, volunteers have delivered 25 million pounds of food and fed tens of thousands of our neighbors.
With this incredible milestone met, Frank is retiring from his role at Table to Table. In his announcement, Frank shared this message for those continuing his work,
Since we can’t yet convene in celebration of Frank and all of his incredible work, please consider writing a note to Frank and sending it to Table to Table. You can submit your message in a variety of ways on this page. We will deliver your well-wishes and appreciation to him.
Stay tuned for additional ways we will recognize Frank as we celebrate him and 25 amazing years.