Food waste is growing issue, and many in Houston could benefit from un-served food that eventually ends up in a landfill. And though the only food recovery service of its kind in the city has already reached a village, they’re pressing on in their quest.
Established in 2014, Second Servings of Houston has now rescued more than 1 million pounds of surplus food that would have gone to the waste, but is now feeding people. Drivers pick up un-served and unsold food from distributors, retailers, hotels, universities, sports venues, and other regulated food businesses and deliver it to charities – including Kids Meals and Texas House in the Garden Oaks area – within the same day. Donors partner with Second Servings to schedule surplus food rescues on a regular or occasional basis.
“After a year [of doing solo food recovery], I realized there was so much food going to waste – and realized that food recovery was going on all over the country, we just didn’t have anything like that in Houston at the time,” founder Barbara Bronstein said of her initial dive into the effort.
USDA estimates say one in six individuals in the U.S. faces food insecurity, or inadequate access to nutritional food.
Houston’s situation is worse, with one in five Houstonians facing food insecurity according to Bronstein. To combat these issues, Second Servings delivers food to 47 approved charity meal sites, and remains Houston’s only prepared and perishable food rescue organization.
Initially, Bronstein turned to the Houston Food Bank, but was later re-directed to Impact Houston, which serves 700 meals a week to needy individuals and families. Following an 18-month pilot program called “Banquet Bounty for the Hungry” that served as the precursor to Second Servings, her vision was born.
According to the USDA, wasted food could potentially feed up to 25 million Americans. In three years since inception, Second Servings’ donated food has been distributed weekly to a network of carefully vetted charity meal sites – such as Kids Meals and Texas House – that serve more than 12,500 needy individuals per week.
“We like to get to know our charities and bring them what they really want and have a need for, as much as we can accommodate them,” Bronstein said. “We’re mainly interested in providing fresh produce and prepared food for them.”
In the case of Texas House – an organization that provides a one-year alcohol and drug rehab program for men in need who want to overcome their addictions and become productive citizens in the community and is one of Second Servings’ newest partners – the partnership could have come at a more opportune time. President Ron O’Neill said Texas House found Second Servings right as their main food supplier became unable to meet the needs for feeding residents in the program.
“We are grateful and are looking forward to working with Second Servings, very excited about this new partnership. The resources they have will greatly benefit our clients – it’s a fit between what they offer and what we can definitely use! Box lunches, snacks, juice, meals, produce— all can be utilized by our client base,” he said. “Barbara and her team do an amazing job locating these resources, evaluating the needs in the Houston community and re-allocating these valuable resources.”
Unlike a food bank, Second Servings doesn’t store the food – making pick-ups and drop-offs on the same day in refrigerated vehicles, ensuring the food stays fresh and safe. Donated food helps nourish a wide range of individuals, including abused women and children, at-risk youth, veterans, disabled homeless seniors, developmentally challenged adults and more. And while the most in-need charity sites remain on the northeast side of town, Bronstein said donations from any interested party can help the cause.
“We’d love to pick up more donors [in the Heights and Garden Oaks/Oak Forest] area so we can be more efficient in our distribution,” she said. “…We like to fill stomachs, not landfills.”
Second Servings only accepts food from regulated food businesses that have agreed to follow strict guidelines, while recipient agencies have met food handling and storage requirements and are subject to a periodic inspection by the City Health Department. Any interested donors in Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, or the Heights can reach Bronstein and set up a meet through the company’s website at secondservingshouston.org.