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Starbucks Is Now Donating Unsold Food To The Greater Chicago Food Depository

By Anthony Todd in Food on May 18, 2017 3:24PM

Pretty sandwiches from Starbucks, many of which get thrown away at the end of the day. Photo via Starbucks.

Ever wonder what happens to all those mini scones, breakfast sandwiches and baked eggs at the end of a long day at Starbucks? Until recently, the answer would have been "they get tossed," but thanks to a new partnership between Starbucks and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, that's changed.

Food waste is largely a logistical challenge. There's a ton of unused food to go around, a ton of hungry people who need it, and ... not enough in the middle to help connect them. Food pantries do a lot of this work, but there are many obstacles standing between the leftover food at a restaurant or grocery store and a shelter or pantry, including transportation, refrigeration, health codes and ensuring a steady and reliable flow of products. Just a little while back, Monica Eng at WBEZ did a story on what happens to airline meals when flights are canceled (spoiler alert: they mostly get thrown away).

That's why it takes a partnership between two large, skilled organizations to do something about food waste. Starbucks, through a nationwide project called FoodShare (created in partnership with Feeding America), is giving food and cash. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is making it actually happen.

"There’s over 200 Starbucks locations in Chicago," said GFCD Communications Director Jim Conwell. We’re starting at 118, and we’re planning to scale it to all stores." That means something like 2000-3000 pounds of fresh food a day (nearly 1500 meals) being distributed directly to shelters, including the Olive Branch Mission, the Pacific Garden Mission and the House of Mary and Joseph. This isn't an easy feat. "If we’re going to be picking up food and taking it directly to our partner agencies, we have to make sure it’s time and temperature controlled," explained Conwell. "Our drivers go out nightly around 9 p.m., going to all these Starbucks locations, retrieving the food from cold storage."

In addition to providing leftover, perfectly delicious food to their three partner shelters, because much of the food is packaged by Starbucks already, it allowed recipients to take meals with them to eat outside of the shelter, further increasing food access and security for those in need.

The Food Depository has added extra vans, drivers and hours of work (this is, apparently, the first time they've ever run a third shift), and the project has been running for about six weeks. Chicago is the largest market so far that Starbucks has tried this program in.