Cutting through Red Tape to Fight Hunger

1. Oklahoma is sixth in the nation when it comes to restaurant waste.

2. Oklahoma ranks fourth when it comes to people going hungry.

“On average, restaurants throw out 27 pounds of sanitary, untouched food per day,” says Oklahoma City-based Needs Foundation co-founder Joey Abbo. “If we were to collect that food from just 20 percent of the restaurants in Oklahoma, we could virtually wipe out hunger in the state.”

It seems pretty simple in theory: taking unused food from restaurants every night, and using them to help feed the less fortunate.

But with this being America — big lawsuit-happy America — it’s not that simple. For years, organizations have tried to transform the senseless act of throwing away untouched edibles into a charitable movement…with little success.

But their perseverance finally paid off.

Abbo and his brother spent more than two years battling the local department of health for access to these foods and were finally given the okay to move forward with their initiative last December.

The process is incredibly simple — they just have to move fast: When a participating restaurant calls to let Needs know they have unused food, folks are sent out with dozens of Cambros (special insulated pouches) to pick it up within the hour. When they return to headquarters, the food is either prepared and given out, or freeze-dried for delivery the next day.

But it doesn’t end in OKC. Abbo has big plans for the Needs model, and joins other organizations, like the Campus Kitchens Project (at least 30 U.S. colleges participate), in the push to combat hunger. “It’s pretty simple,” he says. “Once we’re out of our baby steps, we can blueprint what we did, and take it to every major city.”

And the look on his face when he said that was not of wild passion, nor was it for emphasis.

To him and his team who are feeding people who previously weren’t getting enough to eat, it’s simple.

So, so simple.

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