The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency reports that nearly 4 million tons of food are landfilled in Illinois every year, and composting adds harmful carbon emissions to the environment. Now West Suburban Community Pantry (WSCP) in Woodridge is working to redirect rescued edible food into the hands of people who need it most.
According to Feeding America one in 11 Illinoisans are food insecure.
The Pantry has looked at whole supply chain from farmer to retailer seeking ways to eliminate unnecessary food waste and help food pantries give away more food. Now they are working with several food distributors to rescue quality produce from being thrown away and redirecting it to its customers and other area food pantries. Much of the produce is donated, while some is sold to WSCP at very low cost.
“Rescuing food is one way we add value to our vision of ending hunger,” says Paul Matsushima, Director of Pantry Operations. “We’ve responded to our customers’ request for more fresh produce by partnering with produce distributors like Sunterra Chicago and Atom Banana, as well local produce grower The Farm and online value grocer Misfits Markets. These partnerships help keep our produce bins full and allow us to consistently offer these high- demand items at our in-person market and our online virtual pantry.”
Since March 2023, the Pantry has diverted over 210,000 pounds of unused produce, with 170,000 pounds feeding WSCP customers and an additional 30,000 pounds forwarded to other charitable food organizations throughout the Chicagoland area, including Beyond Hunger, Loaves and Fishes and Outreach House.
Paul Kolkau, Owner at Sunterra Chicago, says his company has always been committed to striving for zero waste. “We don’t want to pay to throw away edible food” he says. “Retail standards for uniform size, shape, and color mean that we constantly have some produce that will go to waste. Sometimes we have more supply than demand. If I can help change a few lives and save money and the environment, why would we not donate perfectly good food to people who need it?”
In addition to rescuing surplus food from area retailers and receiving donations from local small gardeners in season, in the future WSCP hopes to identify more sources for animal protein, fish and additional varieties of ethnic foods to meet its diverse customer base. Says Matsushima, “When we are able to source and then share this food with our customers and with other pantries throughout Chicagoland, we also share our belief that there is enough healthy food available when we think creatively, find allies, and work together. “