- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Once a week, Mike and Laurie Hawkins hop in their car and head out on a mission to rescue wayward pastries, loaves of bread, soup bones and meat.

“It’s a good use of our time,” Mrs. Hawkins said as she and her husband pushed a cart piled high with food around the North Market on Thursday. “And it gets the job done.”

The Clintonville couple are food runners for Community Plates, a nonprofit organization that uses an app and volunteer initiative to intercept surplus items that might otherwise add to the staggering amount of the nation’s food supply that goes uneaten.

According to Feeding America, an estimated 25 to 40 percent of food grown, processed and transported in the United States will never be consumed. More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other type of material in municipal solid waste.

“Once you do a run, you’re kinda hooked,” said New Albany resident Susan Keiser-Smith, who started as a volunteer and now heads the Columbus operation.

Community Plates began in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in 2011 and has sites in about a half-dozen other areas. In Columbus, it works with roughly 30 receiving agencies, including pantries, soup kitchens, low-income residential complexes and other social-service providers.

The food comes from restaurants, grocers, pizza shops and even special events that wind up with way too many leftovers. “We pick up from Pelotonia,” Keiser-Smith said of the mammoth cancer fundraiser. “The first year we did it, it was over 2,000 pounds of really good food.”

Volunteer runners can use the GoRescue app to manage their shifts. “Once you set up your profile, you can see the schedule,” Keiser-Smith said. “Sign up for a run, and you’re good to go. If something comes up, you can go through and cancel.”

Community Plates is growing and needs more volunteer runners, she said. The Hawkinses were among the first and have completed nearly 350 runs. They’ve essentially adopted the Thursday evening run from the North Market to Faith Mission, whose homeless shelters and soup kitchen feed more than 600 people a day.

“The cooks here are wonderful,” said Faith Mission Executive Director Sue Villilo. “If it comes in, it gets used.”

Clients also appreciate the treats - gourmet popcorn and pretzels, for example - that go beyond the typical fare. “It’s awesome, and they come four times a week,” Villilo said of Community Plates.

The volunteer-based effort supplements the large-scale work of food banks and pantries. Community Plates aims for quick and nimble; most runs span no more than 15 miles.

“It’s not meant to take much more than 30 minutes,” Keiser-Smith said.

Emily Esker, an employee of Omega Artisan Baking, smiled as she filled the Hawkinses’ cart with fresh bread that wasn’t sold Thursday.

“We love when they come,” Esker said. “It breaks my heart when nobody comes.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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