Sunday, April 02, 2006

A great tragedy of food and hunger

Today, my wife and I went to the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center "Gathering of Heros" event at Minute Maid Park for gold-level 2005 blood donors. It was a pleasant enough event, and we were having quite an enjoyable time until I asked about the vast expanses of food that were going uneaten. I don't know if they overestimated the attendance or just over-ordered on food, but towards the end of the event there were still dozens of tables covered with enough chicken strips, empanadas, cheeses, deserts, and other assorted foods to feed hundreds of people. A rather official-looking woman (I didn't get her name), said they would love to give the food to charity, but legal liabilities prevent them from doing so. If anybody got ill from the food, they could sue the Blood Center for untold amounts. They were simply throwing it all away. That staggering waste really depressed me, made all the more acute as we walked by the Star of Hope mission next door to the stadium on the way out to our car.

A clear demand, a clear supply, and a clear desire - all thwarted by our legal system. And this is not an isolated situation. I've been to dozens of banquet events where I noticed plenty of food left over at the end, and I always assumed it would somehow go to those in need. I've made the same assumptions about leftover foods from buffet-style restaurants like Luby's. I guess I was pretty far off-base. I'm betting there are literally tons of perfectly edible food going to waste every day in this city.

It seems there has to be a win-win solution option here, although I don't know what it is off the top of my head. Maybe a state indemnity law for charitable giving? Maybe it needs to go through an intermediate organization with indemnity, like a federal agency? (I seem to remember something from school that the federal government can't be sued without its permission) Local food banks, homeless shelters, churches, and similar charities should be all over this with their political representatives.

Additional solution suggestions are welcome in the comments.

8 Comments:

At 7:21 PM, April 02, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Your gift is precious, and it is commendable that you donated blood.

About 15-years ago, the Blood Bank was exposed for collecting free blood and peddling it for huge profits. Then they would issue an emergency call for more blood, just to again sell the blood elsewhere for additional "windfall" profits. And, like many "non-profits" the executive(s) receive enormous bonuses.

I for one still have little trust in these "tax-exempt" groups. In my view, it is far better to donate blood at hospitals, in the name of a particular recipient.

 
At 8:04 PM, April 02, 2006, Anonymous ringzero said...

Idiosyncracies in our legal system prevent all kinds of rational and charitable behavior.

One way some restaurants deal with the leftover food issue is they throw the food away, but instead of just tossing it in the big dumpster, they put the food in clean plastic bags and leave it near or on top of the dumpster. Then some in-the-know homeless people can come get it, technically, out of the trash.

But I suspect most restaurants wouldn't be willing to do this.

 
At 2:22 AM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous nmainguy said...

Inspite of Bazan's attempt to turn a good deed into something ugly based on an isolated incident that occured 15 years ago, I applaud you and your wife. I can't begin to tell you what a god-send donated blood can be.
As far as the food goes, I realize the laws are skewed to the "better safe than sorry" mentality so prevalent today. Maybe an isolated solution would be to invite the homeless to events like the "Gathering of Heros". It could serve as a nice meal for many who don't have enough to eat in addition to "doggie bags" that can be taken to their friends who couldn't/wouldn't attend. It could expose the very real problem of hunger in Houston. It could also allow two groups who rarely if ever interact to come to see "the other side". Maybe at the next gathering, this might be a good thing.
Again, it's just another thread in the fabric of Houston-as much as developement, mass transit and all the other things that make up our city, compassion for our fellow citizens is just as vital.

 
At 11:54 AM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous Alan Wild said...

Being from Louisville, KY originally (moved to Houston 6.5 years ago)... this sounds a lot like an organization that started there in the 80s. Here's their web site:

http://www.usaharvest.com/index.html

I recall KY Harvest even being touted during one of the presedential elections... don't quite recall which though.

 
At 2:13 PM, April 03, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks for the link. They look like exactly the right organization, but it doesn't look like the have a Houston chapter, and I can't tell if there's any legal indemnity provided (doubtful).

 
At 6:07 PM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Nmainguy,

Did you read my first sentence in the original post?

I guess there will always be greedy people that will take advantage of those who give generously so as to try and help others.

For years, I would volunteer at least twice a week at the St. Vincent de Paul center at St. Jerome's Catholic Church to help transfer food. I would pick up the bread and rolls from the Randall's grocery on Blalock on Sunday night, and bring it in the morning when we unloaded the pick-up trucks transfering food from the Houston Food Bank.

This type of local operation serves more folks much more efficiently, and it is totally volunteer run. No one walks away with any bonuses.

 
At 7:39 PM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous ringzero said...

All large bureaucracies are riddled with inefficiency and outright corruption. Mr. Bazan is right on when he says it's better to avoid the middleman and give directly. Of course, not everyone has the time and patience to do the required legwork, so sometimes a large, so-called non-profit organization can come in handy, although there are obvious ones to avoid, e.g. United Way.

 
At 7:55 PM, April 03, 2006, Blogger Mark Smith, Busrider Rights Advocate said...

This reminds me of "Thanksgiving" dinner that was being held several years ago, in front of one "New Development" type loft sales places that seem to be springing up downtown. I happened to stumble across it as the food, what was left, which could have fed many people, was being taken up. I asked if I could talk with some one about getting a plate, (as there were none out), and was told, that they would see about it. After they took up all the food and disappeared, without returning, even though many tables were still out, and after about a thirty minute or more wait, I determined they had little interest in accomodating me. PERHAPS: If I had been wearing a Fancy Suit? To my mind, (and I just briefly perused other comments), "legal Liabilities", seems to mean that perhaps, at one time, some recipient of "free food" got food poisoning, (as probably did the paying patrons, (I once got food poisoning at a particular cafeteria about TWENTY Years ago, called and complained- Got sent a card for two free meals. I NEVER went Back. I SHOULD have sued them.).It seems that people like to get away with what they can, and if they can waste tons of food rather than give it away, they will, citing, "somebody might SUE US." I've been homeless, although never out on the streets, thanks to friends, due to state governmental agencies
bureacracies, and a legal system, that are SUPPOSED to protect the RIGHTS of citizens,but DON'T. Thank GOD that through friends, other, non governmental agencies, and getting on Food Stamps, I, when I was homeless, was never relegated to having to forage for thrown out food from trash cans. You may even see signs on some dumpster fences about the possibility of being arrested for diggin in a dumpster.

 

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