Montgomery County is preparing to unveil a new program for connecting sources of unused food with people who need it.
The county’s food recovery network is expected to make it easier to collect unused food and get it to nonprofit agencies who feed the hungry.
The program will deal with both planned food recoveries — when a supermarket knows it will have meat, dairy, produce or other products that will be past their sell-by date and can schedule the products to be picked up — and unplanned pickups, taking food that wasn’t served from large weddings or catering events, said Richard Romer, who works for Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin.
Ervin helped form a work group that developed recommendations on creating a food recovery program for the county.
The work group was scheduled to release its finding at a press conference Sept. 10.
The group plans to set up both a central phone number to help set up food collections, as well as a mobile phone app to help connect providers with distributors, Romer said.
A survey of grocery stores in the county found there aren’t many who don’t already donate products to organizations to feed the hungry, but restaurants and caterers may be more of an untapped market, said Jenna Umbriac, director of nutrition programs for Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, which provides food for more than 3,500 families each month.
According to the group’s website, one in four county residents is at risk of hunger, and 32 percent of Montgomery County Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
People are sometimes reluctant to donate because they’re afraid of being liable if someone gets sick from the products they donate, Umbriac said. But the new program will provide a countywide seal of approval that unused goods can be donated without fear of liability.
The program has attracted a lot of private sector support, Romer said.
“There’s a lot of interest in making this happen,” he said.
The county set aside $200,000 in the fiscal 2014 budget to help implement the program.
Having the funding approved will help get things moving more quickly once the plan is released, and they hope to have to program up and running by the start of 2014, Romer said.
The county money will help Manna improve its infrastructure, particularly storage by building larger walk-in freezers or refrigerators, she said.
The program won’t magically solve the hunger problem in the county, Umbriac said.
Officials and groups that work to feed the hungry will still have to work on food issues, as well as the larger factors that contribute to poverty.
“We can’t lose sight of the bigger issues,” she said.