Community Plates ‘app’ way to serve Fairfield County’s hungry

In Fairfield County, some 110,000 people do not necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. That’s about one-sixth of the population, roughly the national average.

“What I want to say is that it just doesn’t make any sense,” says Kevin Mullins. “It makes no sense on the basis of how rich this nation is, and it makes even less sense when you consider how much food we waste.”

That illogic spurred Mullins in 2011, along with Jeff Schacher, to create Community Plates, a national food rescue nonprofit based in Fairfield County that uses technology in a novel way to fight hunger.

With the GoRescue app, volunteers — between 200 and 300 locally, some 500 nationally and more than 1,200 since 2011 — can log in and sign up for food runs between food donors like Trader Joe’s and a recipient like the Open Door Shelter in Norwalk. You can adopt a run or un-adopt it while you’re away (though you might want to get someone to “foster parent” your run while you’re gone.)

“It’s about connecting the dots,” says Mullins, Community Plates’ executive director. “What the technology does is coordinate the activities of 10,000 volunteers as seamlessly as a person could do 100.”

The idea is not entirely new, he adds. Food Runners, a 28-year-old organization that relays food for more than 5,000 meals each day in San Francisco, has mentored Community Plates, which has locations in New Haven; Columbus, Ohio; New Orleans; and Albuquerque, N.M.  “But (Food Runners) doesn’t leverage the technology in the same way,” Mullins says.

To date, Community Plates has rescued almost 8 million meals nationally — 6 million in Fairfield County alone — from bakeries, caterers, markets, restaurants and other food-service organizations, saving more than 8 million pounds of nutritious, usable food from going in the landfill. The nonprofit expects to rescue 2.5 million meals in Fairfield County this year.

Helping Community Plates to reach its goals is its signature fundraiser “Food for All,” held this past spring at The Loading Dock in Stamford.

The nightclubby scene turned a spotlight on eateries new to Fairfield — Abigail Kirsch, Aji 10 Latin Cuisine & Pisco Bar, Amore Cucina & Bar, Cafe Madrid & Tapas Bar, Fleisher’s Craft Butchery, Fortina, Golden View Firenze, Greenwich Cheese Co., Jax & Co., K is for Cookies, LeRouge Chocolates, Match, NEAT, Palmwich, Paloma, SOOSH, Strada 18 and Table 104 Osteria & Bar. Meanwhile, the craft cocktails bars were manned by restaurant vets bartaco, The Fez, The Spread, Walrus & Carpenter and Nestlé Waters.

The evening raised $75,000 to benefit the GoRescue platform — which includes best practices, technology, training and support — and save and deliver 1.5 million meals. (Every $1 donated equals 20 meals.) And this is just the beginning.

Mullins says, “We anticipate exponential expansion over the next 18 months as we work toward our mission of eliminating hunger nationwide.”

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