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Donating surplus event food to fight hunger, food waste

CEO Bob Goldberg announces effort to make NAR events "Food Recovery Verified"

Goldberg Anderson Goldberg (left) and Anderson

Aug. 30, 2019
By Lori Sharn

The National Association of Realtors wants all its many meetings and events to end the same way—with excess food donated to groups fighting hunger.

NAR announced a partnership in August with the nonprofit Food Recovery Network and is encouraging all 1,200 local and state Realtor organizations around the country to take the same pledge to tackle both food waste and hunger. FRN will work with the organizations to develop recovery plans, including identifying local groups to receive the food.

The total recovered from just one event, NAR’s recent Leadership Summit in Chicago, attended by 1,500 people: 18 sheet pans of prepared food, 30 dozen breakfast pastries, 300 bags of chips, pretzels or popcorn, and 300 granola bars.

“To see this food go to waste, it just hurts you personally,” CEO Bob Goldberg said. “When I went to my leadership, the elected leadership, they were so thrilled to be behind this as a mission of our association.”

Goldberg said it always bothered him to see food being discarded after NAR events, but was told by hotel managers and others that liability concerns barred giving the food away. (The 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects donors who act in “good faith,” but many people are unaware of the federal law.)

Then Goldberg attended an event at the University of Maryland and observed people taking away excess food. He asked his daughter—who works in event planning for the university—to find out more. That led him to the Food Recovery Network, which was founded by UMD students in 2011 to glean food at dining halls. There are now 230 student chapters and thousands of volunteers at campuses around the country.

FRN has also started working with businesses and non-student groups. Organizations designated as “Food Recovery Verified” can tout the recognition with window stickers, digital logos and social media promotions. Some of the largest single-day recoveries to date have come from the Fancy Food Show held twice a year by the Specialty Food Association. FRN also verified plans to glean food from the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America tour.

FRN Executive Director Regina Anderson said each recovery plan is unique, but typically the dining staff at private events and businesses will package the surplus food. Food that has been served, including being placed on buffet tables, cannot be saved. However, food that is still in the kitchen and kept at a safe temperature can be donated.

Anderson said FRN is already coordinating with many Realtor organizations on food recovery plans and would welcome calls from other associations.