For more than 30 years, Potluck Food Rescue has tackled two seemingly separate, but interconnected issues in Little Rock, aiming for both with one mission: reducing food waste to feed the hungry, or as they often put it, "feeding people, not landfills."
Through partnerships with restaurants and other community entities, Potluck "rescues" excess food that would otherwise be thrown away, and instead gives it to neighbors in need. The nonprofit has distributed millions of pounds of food to hungry Arkansans over the years, as well as composted inedible foods.
On Thursday, Sept. 8, Potluck will host its signature event Driving Away Hunger at The Rail Yard featuring eats from some of Little Rock's favorite chefs, live music and silent auctions. Ahead of the fundraiser, we caught up with executive director Sylvia Blain to get a glimpse of life with Potluck.
How has your view of hunger in Arkansas changed since you joined Potluck Food Rescue?
SB: I have long been aware of the issue of food insecurity in Arkansas. I have been working in food systems in the state since 2002, and at one time worked with Heifer International to develop a tool that would measure food security at a neighborhood level. What I have learned is that the issue is much more complicated than I realized, or most people realize. There is no single answer to solving hunger. There is no single root cause. We have to bring everyone to the table to work on these issues, and we have to stop disregarding simple solutions like food waste mitigation as one way to help.
What is one statistic/fact about hunger and food waste that sticks with you?
SB: More than 40% of the food produced in this country ends up "wasted." The ethics behind that are astounding to me.
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How has your work changed or been affected by the pandemic?
SB: The types of food donated shifted almost immediately. When our restaurant and commercial kitchen partners were shuttered, a large food source for us immediately disappeared. When they hurt, we hurt. That happened at the same time demand rose by more than 300% for us. Our hunger relief agency partners were struggling with volunteers to prepare and package food, which means their needs were shifting as well. We were able to find new sources of food and shift our focus to fresh food items rather than fully prepared items. The pandemic may be waning, but food shortages and spikes in food prices are ongoing. We will see the strain on our food system for at least another year or more.
What are you most excited about for this year's Driving Away Hunger event?
SB: I love when the planning is over, the committee work has come to a close and we can enjoy each other's company. This event is casual. It's an outdoor event (with rain-out coverage!) with food, drinks and fun. I am also super excited about our silent auction this year. We have some great items on the list. There's a cabin getaway, a tailgating package with a PK Grill and more.
Other than attending the fundraiser, how can readers get involved with Potluck?
SB: Potluck has been slowly building our volunteer army. If you are interested in picking up food for us whenever it is convenient for you, or perhaps you want to help sort through fruits and veggies or work an event, just visit our website and we will be in touch. You can donate to the cause on our website as well. Funds donated by individuals are mostly unrestricted and allow us to pay bills, pay salaries and cover overhead expenses that are often disallowed by grants. You can donate, buy tickets to Driving Away Hunger and sign up to volunteer by visiting potluckfoodrescue.org. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up with us and our ever-changing needs.
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