“The Best Food on Skid Row”: Bon Appétit Fights Food Insecurity Through Chefs to End Hunger

Pastries ready for donation

Over 42 million Americans live in food-insecure homes. Without regular access to healthy, affordable food, they may depend on federal assistance, community services, or soup kitchens for some of their meals. Across the country, Bon Appétit teams assist the food insecure in their communities by donating excess food on a regular basis.

We’ve committed that 80 percent of our accounts will do so by 2018. They may even donate in partnerships, with the support of student groups, nonprofits, or other businesses. LA & SF Specialty, a California-based food distribution company, is one such food recovery partner. In 2012, LA & SF Specialty piloted a food recovery program called Chefs to End Hunger, which helps chefs in restaurants, hotels, and food service “easily and efficiently donate food to those in need.” Each day, LA & SF Specialty drivers deliver their produce orders to Bon Appétit accounts throughout the greater Bay Area and Los Angeles regions; they also pick up “kits” filled by our chefs with leftover food, which go back to the warehouse and are then picked up and distributed around the region by nonprofit partners such as Hope 4 the Heart (Bay Area) and The Midnight Mission (Los Angeles).

In Northern California, Bon Appétit teams at Google, Oracle, and Genentech work with Chefs to End Hunger, while in Los Angeles, Dreamworks, Soka University, and Marymount California University are among those that do. Overall there are close to 90 Bon Appétit accounts that donate through Chefs to End Hunger! I recently got to witness how donations move from kitchens through the warehouse to the nonprofits. I also spoke with those who are directly impacted by the food.

In San Francisco, drivers for nonprofit partner Hope 4 the Heart took their refrigerated truck to an early pickup at the SF Specialty warehouse, where about seven pallets of donated food awaited. Boxes filled with whole grains, breads, fruit, vegetables and even some packaged grab-and-go items like salads or sandwiches were ready to be picked up and dropped at Hope 4 the Heart. Its warehouse has a large parking area that acts as the nonprofit’s physical structure, and on that day, about 10 volunteers quickly unloaded the pallets and designated boxes for various shelters and soup kitchens around the region. Executive Director Victoria Popinjay explained that Hope 4 the Heart does not serve any food on-site; rather, it works as an aggregator and distributor on behalf of other local organizations. This allows it to reach a larger swath of the community through multiple shelters and soup kitchens. The food it distributes provides about 12,000 meals each month.

Donations of prepared food through food recovery programs like LA & SF Specialty’s Chefs to End Hunger are particularly helpful for shelters that cannot prepare food on-site.

A visit to the LA Specialty warehouse and its Los Angeles nonprofit partner, The Midnight Mission, proved equally impressive. A 100-year-old organization in the heart of Skid Row, Midnight Mission runs several programs to benefit the local community, from daily meals to a drug and alcohol treatment program to an overnight shelter. Volunteer Manager Joey Wienart graduated from their treatment program and personally understands the significance of this work.

A kitchen tour began with lunch. Chefs to End Hunger boxes from that day’s donation were set out on the countertops. The Mission serves three meals a day to the homeless community and those enrolled in the treatment program. It serves about 900,000 meals a year with a full-time staff of only four people in the kitchen, relying heavily on volunteers. Several employees spoke with great appreciation of the program. The health and wellness coach at the treatment center explained how health was integral to the men’s treatment program, and how having donations of food that includes whole grains, vegetables, and fruit allows program participants to experience delicious and wholesome food, not simply to learn about it. The Mission even has a reputation for having the best food on Skid Row.

Through collaborations with its food recovery partners, it’s clear that Bon Appétit contributes meaningfully to these California communities — far outside the confines of the cafés we operate. Each time Bon Appétit chefs donate through Chefs to End Hunger, they positively impact the lives of thousands of people thanks to these partnership relationships. One donated meal — or even 1,000 — may not eliminate food insecurity entirely, but by keeping leftovers out of landfills, raising awareness around food waste, and distributing food to those in need, a hunger-free future is one step closer.