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Published: February 22, 2017

Sophomores Reduce Food Waste with Weekly Recovery Effort

Two years ago as freshmen, Lauren Twele and Jennifer Campbell were randomly paired as roommates in the Vaughn Center. It turned into a good match.

Now as sophomores, the two are leading the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), which recently established the University’s first chapter of the Food Recovery Network, the 200th in the organization’s history.

“We took over as co-presidents Spring 2016 and were looking for an initiative,” said Campbell, a political science major from Long Island, NY. “We were looking for something new that hadn’t been addressed on campus yet.”

The Food Recovery Network (FRN) came across their path through a passing recommendation, and after researching the nonprofit, which was started by college students at the University of Maryland in 2011, decided it’d be a good fit at UT.

“I was continually uplifted by their positivity and passion for bringing this program to The University of Tampa,” said Emily Soderberg, who provides data and program support for the FRN. “Since the FRN national office communicates with our chapters virtually, we mostly offer expertise, problem solving, direction and encouragement. It is our awesome students, including Jenn and Lauren, who do the essential on-the-ground work of building relationships in their communities. I can't wait to see their program grow and evolve.”

With support from the staff at the national office, Twele and Campbell went about a summer of emails, phone calls and meetings with UT administrative and dining staff to get organized and ready for launch. They also chose the Tampa nonprofit Cornerstone Kids Inc., an after-school program serving 37 at-risk youth ages 5–11, as the recipient of the donated food — primarily produce, whole-grain crackers and desserts.

“We take extra food from the café that would normally go bad, and we bring it to Cornerstone every Friday afternoon so we’re not throwing it out,” said Campbell. “We loved Cornerstone because they recently had a lot of their funding cut for their food budget, so it worked really well that we could help supplement with things they were no longer getting.”

Olatha Leggett, Cornerstone’s program director, said the relationship has been beneficial.

“It is helping us save on our weekly food budget, yet the children are still receiving healthy foods,” Leggett said. “Lauren and Jenn have been a blessing to our program, and we can't thank them enough for the opportunity to become a part of the Food Recovery Network.”

Twele and Campbell, who are both in the Honors program, have decided to go beyond just food donation and have included an occasional volunteer component where after dropping off the food (with help from PEACE), a group of UT students stays to work with the children. Starting in March, they hope to provide lessons on nutrition and sustainable agriculture.

“They’re just 15–20-minute lessons about the food system cycle, the parts of a plant,” said Twele, who is collaborating with Sodexo on the material. “Where does their food actually come from when they get it from the store? What part of a plant are they eating when they have an apple or an orange?”

Twele, a marine science–biology major with a minor in education from Baltimore, MD, would like to work in conservation education when she graduates.

“This is a great foot in the door,” Twele said. “It’s given me so much practice developing curriculum and seeing how different lessons are going to work in a group setting.”

The students would like to see their efforts grow to include more days, more food and more volunteers. They are already thinking ahead to make sure their efforts are sustainable.

“We’re already training new people,” to take over when they graduate, said Campbell, who wants to work in public policy. “We definitely want this to be something that continues. We’re very grateful to have club members who are already invested. This incoming freshmen class seemed to have a passion for it, even more so than ours did.”

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