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Table to Table to the rescue

IOWA CITY– The reach of an Iowa City-based food recovery organization now extends to Solon with the opening of the Solon Food Pantry on June 4.
Table to Table (T2T), a non-profit organization that rescues food from Hy-Vee, New Pioneer Co-op, farmers’ markets, the Iowa Memorial Union, and two dozen other restaurants and markets, last year diverted 500 tons of foodstuffs from the landfill to empty stomachs in Johnson and Cedar County.
The group runs routes daily, receiving spot reports about extra food from donors with always-changing shelf stock.
It’s a logistical challenge, T2T Director Bob Andrlik said, with some stops yielding just a dozen loaves and other days pulling in a dozen racks of bread. Most food is held by T2T in transit only and usually for less than two hours.
Over 100 T2T volunteers keep track of cases of canned goods, thinking on their feet to move good food where it’s needed, and helping collect and deliver food in two refrigerated vans.
As of Friday, June 1, one van was down for repair, a major blow to T2T and dire news for the families that receive food rescue.
T2T is the food transportation system for pantries and shelters including Agape Café, Christian Cultural Community, Clear Creek Family Resource, Coralville Ecumenical Food Pantry, Crisis Center Food Bank, Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Families, Inc., Four Oaks (PAL and Youth Shelter), Free Lunch Program, Hills Family Resource Center, Hometies Day Care, Hope Lodge, Iowa Medical Classification Center, Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program, Mental Health Center Clubhouse, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County (Broadway, Pheasant Ridge and Tiffin), North Liberty Family Resource Center, North Liberty Food Pantry, River Community Church Pantry, Ronald McDonald House, Salvation Army, Shelter House, Successful Living, Systems Unlimited and United Action for Youth.
Andrlik said that T2T is able to rescue $1.5 million worth of food on an annual budget of $150,000, quite a return for donated dough and other nutritious tidbits.
“We don’t charge any fees (to agencies),” he said, but the group holds several fundraisers during the year. In July, KCJJ will host a 31-hour radiothon. Last year’s event brought in $28,000 for T2T.
Keeping food out of the landfill is one thing, but keeping agency shelves stocked with a variety of goods requires constant communication.
That’s Table to Table Volunteer Coordinator David Wellendorf’s job. He’s negotiating with scores of volunteers to quickly and efficiently arrange pickups from over 30 different locations weekly to make deliveries to agencies daily.
He helps T2T gleaners deal with the weather, the availability of food, the space in the refrigerated van, the need of the clients served by agencies; everything that ultimately can change the answer to the question, “do we have anything to eat for dinner?”
Wellendorf has certification in food handling and trains all the volunteers in keeping food safe for agencies to give away.
He had nothing but praise for his food recovery team. “We would not even exist without people like Dave Frisbie,” he noted.
Frisbie is a Solon resident who drives T2T’s Monday Coralville route that includes Hy-Vee and the New Pioneer Co-op and delivers to the Salvation Army and Johnson County Crisis Center.
The informal plan is to have Frisbie bring some items to Solon when he heads home and before the pantry opens on Mondays at the Solon United Methodist Church.
Wellendorf predicted that Solon’s new pantry would build on its initial impact, but it might take a year before the community could gauge the need and determine if being open just once a week is enough to serve clients’ needs.
Wellendorf and Andrlik have shared instrumental advice for planning the Solon Food Pantry.
By allowing agencies like homeless shelters and low-income daycare centers to focus on their missions instead of chasing down free food, Andrlik summed up T2T’s role in the community; “At the end of the day, somebody is going to eat that otherwise might not.”
Because of a law allowing gleaning and free redistribution by non-profits, T2T is able to deliver food with legal impunity. Barring any intentional misconduct, the Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 allows food rescue groups like T2T to bring a source of daily bread and sustenance to address hunger and food waste. The purpose of the legislation is to “encourage the donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals.”