ICT Food Rescue: feeding people, not landfills

Written by Amy Palser

Wichita has hundreds of great eateries and as many amazing charities. One local woman has made it her mission to connect the two — turning leftover food into precious meals with the help of volunteer delivery drivers.

Stephanie Merritt started ICT Food Rescue quite by accident after she saw a local coffee shop worker preparing to dump leftover food into the trash. “I said, ‘Please don’t throw that away! Let’s go talk to your manager first.’ ” She knew there were many local agencies that would be thrilled to receive the coffee shop’s surplus. She spoke with the shop owner, and he was excited that someone was willing to take their leftovers to the organizations that needed it.

Today ICT Food Rescue has about 20 food donors and 17 receiving agencies. Connecting the two are “food rescuers” — volunteers who pick up donated food and drive it to a nonprofit organization. Volunteers simply log on to an app and sign up to make a delivery when it works for them — no training required. Merritt said during a recent week, 45 food rescues took place with the help of about 20 volunteers. But ICT Food Rescue has only begun to scratch the surface of the opportunities for relocating food in Wichita, and awareness is key.

Recently, Realtor Amelia Sumerell got on board to help spread the word about ICT Food Rescue by offering to donate a dollar for every “like” on the ICT Food Rescue Facebook page during the week of June 8 through 14. Sumerell recorded several videos about ICT Food Rescue and posted them on her company’s Facebook page. “On Wednesday I decided to go $2 for every like,” Sumerell said. “We ended up with 472 new likes, so, as promised, we presented a check to Stephanie for $944.”

Some of ICT Food Rescue’s donors are Picasso’s Pizzeria, Mosley Street Melodrama, Paradise Donuts, Little Lion Cafe, Crown Uptown Theatre, Reverie Coffee Roasters, Peace Love & Pie, and Birney’s Snack Shop. Among the receiving agencies are City Life Church, Wichita Fellowship Club, Tree House Learning Center, One Spark Foundation, Wichita Family Crisis Center, HumanKind Ministries, Hemingway House, Ronald McDonald House and New Life Church and Outreach Center.

Merritt said she had no intention of forming a nonprofit, but after she began doing food rescues on her own and recruiting friends to help, she learned of a national organization, Food Rescue US, that was doing the same thing on a greater scale. The organization had a sophisticated app that allowed Merritt to communicate on a mass level and thereby get more leftover food to more hungry people. “That literally changed everything,” she said.

Today, Merritt is in awe that one seed — stopping a coffee shop employee from dumping good food — has greatly multiplied. “It really is true that God will do far more than we can ask or imagine,” she said.

Just as it took half a century to make recycling part of America’s culture, Merritt knows it will take time to change the food system so that surplus goes to the places it’s needed instead of landfills. “The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act went into effect in 1996 and we’re just starting to use it,” she said. “When we look at the systemic issues of food insecurity and food waste, you know that as one person you can’t change that. But when you think, ‘Oh, I can do that one food rescue,’ and then it grows, you can do that.”

To become an ICT Food Rescue driver, food donor or receiving agency, download the Food Rescue US app, visit ictfoodrescue.com, or visit the agency’s Facebook page.

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