An effort to divert edible food from the trash could get $200,000 to start up in Montgomery County’s fiscal 2014 budget.
Montgomery is looking to implement a system where food that would have gone to waste at restaurants, grocery stores or suppliers is instead provided to shelters, food bank and other organizations to feed those in need.
The County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee has put the money on the council’s budget reconciliation list to see if members want to commit funds to so-called food recovery as early as next year. Each year, the council compiles a list of budget items to consider adding or deleting from the budget.
In October 2012, the council appointed a work group to draft details for creating and implementing a food-recovery program.
In an interim report to the HHS committee Monday, Jacki Coyle, executive director of Shepherd’s Table, a Silver Spring nonprofit that serves the homeless, referred to two loads of vegetables — one of carrots that was able to be recovered, one of carrots and lettuce that was not.
Montgomery needs a system to understand who needs the food, who has the food, and what food is going to waste, said Coyle, a member of the work group.
The work group asked for the $200,000 to begin creating a program and putting a system of food recovery in place. Coyle said the money would be used for assessment, technology, storage, transportation and education.
Coyle said the first part of the system must be an assessment — who has the food, who has the need, how does the food get from those who have it to those who need it.
Committee Chairman George L. Leventhal asked that the work group also do a cost-benefit analysis of the program.
Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said it is important to understand if the cost of recovering food might exceed the cost of buying new food.
“Like everyone, we don’t want to see waste. On the other hand, this is a lot of effort to recover food,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a bad effort — I think it’s a good effort — but we do have to do some cost-benefit analysis.”
In addition to assessment, technology will be vital to a food-recovery program, Coyle said, so the work group asked that some of the money be used to develop a technology system, like a smartphone app, that would connect nonprofits and food providers quickly and easily.
As the program is put in place, providing space to store food and vehicles to transport it will also be key.
Coyle said some of the money would be used to provide for both storage and transportation.
Finally, a portion of the fund would go to educating those with the food and those who need it.
Minerva Delgado, executive director of Manna Food Center, said restaurants will be a big target of the education, as there are more restaurants that could donate food but don’t.
The technology will come in handy to connect those donations to a food pantry, shelter or organization that can accept prepared meals.
Increasing the storage capacity of the organizations that provide food to those in need will likely be a critical piece of the program as well, she said.
Using Manna as an example, Delgado said she has chicken she could provide to organizations, but they lack the space to store it. Manna is the main food bank in Montgomery County.
Coyle said the work group does not know what staffing the program would require.
“We know that in the beginning, we’re asking for someone, a contractual person to help us to do this assessment and to logistically work with us to put all this together,” she said. “But there will need to be an infrastructure and there will need to be some kind of staffing. We don’t know that answer yet, so we’re asking for $200,000.”
Questions still linger as to whether the end result of the work group will be a county program or an independent one.
The work group’s final report is expected out in July.