On the same weekend that 1,300 FIU students worked diligently to prepare fine fare for a glamorous crowd on South Beach, about 70 students, faculty, staff and alumni volunteered at a food bank in Broward.
In the end, the two helped some of the same people.
While the larger group ran the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, a high-end fundraiser for the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, the other felt the call of community service at nonprofit Feeding South Florida.
Lissette Cruz, a student in the RN-to-BSN program who works as a school nurse, said the chance to assist in preparing boxes of nonperishable food for the hungry resonated with her.
“I work at a school right now, and I see the less fortunate,” Cruz said. “I see the people that don’t get breakfast in the morning, the people coming to my clinic who say they have a stomachache, because they haven’t eaten.”
Meanwhile, some 20 miles away, about 90 hospitality students devoted themselves exclusively to food recovery during the festival. Approximately 20,000 pounds of raw ingredients and cooked items that had never been served were turned over to the same Broward food bank as well as to Miami Rescue Mission.
“We take it pretty seriously,” said John D. Buschman, an adjunct instructor who has coordinated the effort for several years. “The objective is to keep the food from ending up in the dumpster when it could be used by people in the community.”
Buschman cited the example of uncooked ground beef, buns, condiments and vegetables that went unused at the Thursday night Burger Bash hosted by food personality Rachael Ray. Given to Miami Rescue Mission, the leftovers were transformed the next day into a dinner of Salisbury steak for 650 at a homeless shelter.
“The reason this works is you have professional chefs preparing the food and donating what they know to be safe for human consumption,” Buschman explained. The students, working in teams of five to 10 at several of the festival parties, gathered up what the chefs deemed edible and put it immediately on refrigerated trucks operated by professional food handlers. It’s one step to help meet the needs of some 900,000 people in the region who face food insecurity.
Feeding South Florida has set a goal of distributing 48 million pounds of food this year to partners such as churches, synagogues, shelters and others that serve the needy. To accomplish that, the organization trains volunteers to examine boxes, bags and cans of food—some of it slightly dented or nearing the end of its shelf life—that has been donated mostly by local stores. Volunteers check expiration dates and look for compromised packaging that could lead to contamination.
“We don’t want the perception that when we distribute food to our community that it’s unhealthy, not safe for consumption,” said Kelsey Kyle, a sort coordinator employed by Feeding South Florida. “Volunteers are so crucial. Without our volunteers, [packaged food] would just fill up the warehouse.”
On Saturday, FIU and other groups sorted and boxed up about 80,000 pounds of nonperishable food during two shifts, the equivalent of 64,000 meals. Donations of fresh food, handled by paid staff, are distributed within hours to prevent spoilage.
“An innate desire to serve”
Beverly Dalrymple, who heads FIU’s Center for Leadership and Service within the Division of Student Affairs, said her staff organized FIU’s participation and ordered bus transport to the food bank to give those associated with FIU an easy way to help.
“They have a real instinct to care for their community,” Dalrymple said of her fellow Panthers, who conceded it can be difficult for individuals to find ways to help on their own. “They ask, ‘Where do I start?’ They don’t know where to get involved or how to connect with where the need is,” she explained. “By organizing these kinds of opportunities, it allows them to meet that innate desire to serve.” Additional service events are planned throughout the year as part of FIU’s 50th anniversary celebration.
FIU faculty and staff who participated on Saturday happily dragged along family. “Come. It’s important,”Jacqueline Thompson, of the School of Architecture, told her high school daughter, incoming FIU freshman Zoey Needham.
“I was actually really excited,” the 18-year-old said while trying to catch a catnap on the bus that left MMC before 8 a.m. “The ability to give back to the less fortunate is amazing.”