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UH students deliver unsold campus food to IHS

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    University of Hawaii students Heather Fucini, right, and Joy Nagahiro-Twu prepared food for transport to the Institute for Human Services last week. The UHM Food Recovery Network plans to collect hundreds of pounds of food each week from UH food establishments and donate it to IHS.


    University of Hawaii senior Joy Nagahiro-Twu, left, the mother of a 5-year-old son, said she was heartbroken when she saw how many people were being fed by IHS.

Five University of Hawaii at Manoa students have formed the islands’ first chapter of the national Food Recovery Network and, since December, have delivered to Hawaii’s largest homeless shelter more than 1,300 pounds of unsold UH food that would otherwise have ended up in the stomachs of pigs.

Known as the UHM Food Recovery Network, the group plans to collect hundreds of pounds of prepared-but-unsold food every Friday from UH’s various food establishments, then wrap it up and drive it down to the Institute for Human Services in the chapter president’s 2011 Jeep Wrangler within a two-hour window to ensure food safety.

On Friday, the group collected 227 pounds of unsold Reuben sandwiches, pulled pork, potatoes, pasta, chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, fried noodles, white rice, kalua pork, hamburgers, fish sandwiches, pastries and assorted bentos from the UH Campus Center food court and the Hale Aloha dormitory dining hall.

Once at IHS, the donated food was divided between the institute’s separate shelters for families and men, with the goal of serving them the healthiest products with the highest nutritional value.

When UH senior Joy Nagahiro-Twu, mother of a 5-year-old son and vice president and secretary of the UHM Food Recovery Network, started dropping off perfectly good meals in December she was “shocked, very shocked” at what she saw.

“It was alarming,” Nagahiro-Twu said. “It was a lot of people. I was very disheartened that they have to live on the street the way they do. It breaks my heart. I can’t imagine my son not getting the nutrition he needs. Without healthy food and without proper nutrition, the homeless cycle is going to go on again and again.”

The group’s efforts are appreciated by the state’s largest homeless shelter, which serves up to 900 meals per day, three times a day, at five locations. IHS chefs work to turn all donated food into healthy, tasty meals, said IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho.

“We’re very encouraged by community-inspired initiatives like the UH Manoa Dining Service joining the Food Recovery Network and thrilled to be on the receiving end of this bounty,” Carvalho wrote in an email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It can’t get any better than this: recovering perfectly healthy food that would otherwise go to waste to feed hungry homeless families and individuals.”

On April 22, Earth Day, the UHM Food Recovery Network plans to staff a table outside the UH Campus Center to recruit more members, especially younger students to keep the chapter going after the founders graduate. They also hope the idea spreads to other UH campuses across the islands.

Both locally and nationally, Food Recovery Network chapters work with Sodexo, which runs UH-Manoa’s resident dining cafeterias, the Campus Center food court and campus retail sites such as Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Jamba Juice, said Donna Ojiri, Sodexo’s general manager of dining services at UH.

Sodexo pays a company to pick up unsold and discarded food at UH, which is then fed to pigs around Oahu, Ojiri said. But Sodexo is happy to partner with the latest of 180 nonprofit Food Recovery Network college chapters to donate the food it does not sell on Fridays, she said.

“As a company, we want to manage our food operations,” Ojiri said. “We don’t want to create food waste.”

During a typical meal service, the UH Campus Center generates an average of 300 pounds of half-eaten or discarded food that’s fine for pig consumption.

“It’s scraped off the students’ trays, it’s half-eaten pizza,” Ojiri said.

The food that ends up at IHS through the UHM Food Recovery Network has not been consumed and “is still safe to eat,” she said.

The idea to form a UH chapter originated with an assignment from a community nutrition class.

Heather Fucini, a 27-year-old dietetics junior, and her fellow classmates ended up fulfilling their assignment by volunteering at a Kalihi community garden. But a video that Fucini’s husband, Louis, saw on YouTube during the assignment ended up inspring Fucini, Nagahiro-Twu and UH students Mariah Martino, Victoria Duplechain and Chrisann Hinson to form the UHM Food Recovery Network.

“I thought it was a great idea to address the homeless issue here in Hawaii, to relocate the surplus food to the homeless,” Fucini said.

To become a chapter, the founding members first had to collect two donations on their own, starting Dec. 11 at UH’s Gateway dining hall.

Since forming the UHM Food Recovery Network in January, they have completed a dozen collections around campus, which included food such as barbecue chicken, kung pao beef, salad, pizza, chicken tenders, sweet potatoes, tilapia, crabcakes, prime rib, roast beef, curry tofu and fresh fruit.

“Once they close for the day, uneaten and unused food comes off the line and we wrap it up and take it over to the shelter and donate it to IHS,” Fucini said. “We follow food safety standards and everything is thoroughly regulated. It’s just unsold food for that day that otherwise would go to pigs on the island. And it’s good food. We’ve had 19 pounds of crabcakes and prime rib cut right off the slab. Everything’s right off the grill.”

Across the country, an estimated 40 percent of all edible food “is just tossed,” Fucini said.

“With the homeless situation in Hawaii,” she said, “we can redirect our resources and take some strain off of the shelters and off of government by redistributing our surplus food, which would be thrown away anyway. Hawaii has the No. 1 homeless per capita population and a lot of them are children. Making sure there’s adequate food resources for the entire community is something I’m interested in.”

For more information about the UHM Food Recovery Network, email

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