Volunteers mobilize to feed locals in need

One in seven people in the U.S. do not know where their next meal will come from, and nonprofit Keep Austin Fed aims to help local charities that feed the hungry, Operations Director Joseph de Leon said.

KAF volunteers gather extra food from commercial kitchens and stores and distribute it to other nonprofits, he said.

Donors have included Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market, he said.

"It's an awesome situation, but it's like a double-edged sword because you have super high-quality, organic, gluten-free types of meals, but that stuff has got to be frozen immediately or eaten immediately," de Leon said.

Founder Randy Rosens launched KAF in 2004 when he saved catered food from a fundraiser and gave it to a South Austin shelter. Since then KAF has helped several organizations including SafePlace and Foundation Communities.

KAF became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in November and streamlined operations, de Leon said. Volunteers live throughout Austin, de Leon said, noting KAF needs more volunteers in Southwest Austin.

"We try to connect people with as local a route as possible," he said.

Volunteer Robin Berson said the group helps increase access to healthy food, noting she picks up produce from a farmers market and brings it to a shelter.

Berson's husband started the restaurant Snap Kitchen, which relies on KAF to rescue its extra food, she said.

"That's a gut-wrenching experience for most businesses; they don't want to have to throw food away," she said.

About 30 percent of food in the U.S. ends up in a landfill and produces methane gas, which harms the environment, de Leon said.

Volunteer Valerie Granoff said KAF also offers a way to make major impact with only a little time.

"You go online and look for something that fits your schedule," she said.

Volunteers typically do not interact with end consumers, who are usually families living in shelters, de Leon said.

"Often there is a staff member between our volunteers and the end recipient, but there are moments where you look into somebody's eyes and you see the need," he said. "And I grew up poor and that's a big part of the reason why I do this work, because I know what it's like to be hungry. [When you can] see these kids, you can see that they are in need, but for that moment they're just happy."

A donor's perspective

Bill Duffy, chief operating officer of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Texas, said his company's philosophy is aligned with Keep Austin Fed's mission to help the hungry and keep leftovers out of landfills.

"Almost all of our locations are donating our leftover baked goods, sandwiches and salads," he said.

Duffy said he recommends working with KAF to other businesses.

"We're aware of the needs in the city, and we also know that these are things that are going to go to waste otherwise, so why not do the right thing with them?"

How to volunteer

Keep Austin Fed provides training and equipment to volunteers who donate their time on weekdays or weekends and use their own vehicles.

A few food pickup basics:

  • Volunteers can join Keep Austin Fed on GivePulse, an online volunteer network.

  • Donations must be unopened.

  • No home-cooked meals or catered food from events where guests served themselves is allowed to be donated.

  • Volunteers must obtain safe food handling certification.

  • Most deliveries take about an hour to complete.

Keep Austin Fed, 3903 S. Congress Ave. No. 40760, 512-831-3654, www.keepaustinfed.org