Jan. 5, 2016 8:00 am

This startup delivers surplus restaurant food to homeless shelters

The Food Connect Group delivers unused food from restaurants and caterers to shelters. First, they had to learn to wrestle with food donor liability.

Packin' up treats.

(Courtesy photo)

If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, then one catering company’s leftovers are a human services organization’s feast.

Every week, a handful of volunteers load up a van with excess food from local restaurants and caterers like Relish and Warmdaddy’s. Then, they drive around the city delivering those goods to local homeless shelters and recovery houses like Project HOME and St. John’s Hospice.

Don’t be deceived: The Food Connect Group‘s process may sound simple, but according to founder Megha Kulshreshtha, it’s far from it.

“Philadelphia is one of the most food insecure cities in the United States. One in four households in Philadelphia is food insecure,” she said, meaning that a quarter of Philadelphia families don’t have plentiful or certain access to food. “It’s weird to reconcile the fact that we even have this issue when there’s so much abundance.”

Kulshreshtha said she sees the group as a link between all that surplus food in the city and the community-based organizations in need of extra rations. There’s one problem: Most of that food is meant to be consumed immediately, and food producers don’t want to be liable when spoiled food is consumed — especially by those in dire need of that food.

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That’s why the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed by the Clinton administration back in ’96 — to protect both donors and recipients against liability. But Kulshreshtha said that two decades after that federal act was passed, there’s still confusion surrounding food donations.

“If food is given in good faith, donors are covered,” she said. “There are a lot of caveats, but one way we’ve helped educate our donors about it is by forming a liability waiver.”

The liability waiver was created to “help ease those concerns” on the donor front. But the waiver doesn’t do much for recipients. Just because you have food to give, Kulshreshtha said, doesn’t mean every organization will accept it. It has to be the right food delivered at the right time of day.

They’re picky.

“It’s such an ad hoc process. This secondary market for food is unplanned,” Kulshreshtha said. “You could have a catering event for 500 people and you have 250 people’s worth of food leftover at midnight. How do you troubleshoot that?”

All the confusion around liability is why Kulshreshtha said she chose not to make the Food Connect Group a nonprofit. Instead, the group is a limited liability corporation.

“One of the biggest goals of this organization is to be self-sustaining,” she said. “At this stage, we are an LLC to cover liability.”


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