Southern Gables is in Lakewood City Council Ward 5. Our Council Representatives Mary Janssen and Wendi Strom conduct an open meeting for residents monthly to help us all share ideas and learn more about our community. I attended the Ward 5 meeting last Saturday, at the Westwoods Community Church. The main topic was a presentation by Kathy Stanley, the founder of Joy’s Kitchen. The motto of Joy’s is, “Save Food. Love People.”
Food that goes to waste is killing us.
We use labor, water, chemicals, fuel, and all kinds of economic resources to produce food for one good purpose. It is supposed to nourish us, providing the basis for health and happiness. Way too much of it gets thrown out. Where does it go? It goes to landfills. What does it do there? It rots. It takes up space. It produces methane and contributes to the strangulation of our atmosphere. In the United States today, how much food goes to waste?
Forty-two percent. FORTY-TWO PERCENT!
And people are going hungry.
Kathy Stanley founded Joy’s Kitchen eleven years ago, in a moment of brilliant insight following a personal tragedy. What if the food that was committed to this horrific waste stream could be used to solve the problem of food shortages, constantly-increasing prices, spot shortages, and food insecurity?
Joy’s Kitchen provides food to anyone who wants it. No qualifications, no questions. People help solve the problem of food waste and ruin, by coming in for free food. They shop, they choose. Lots of food… good food. No cash register.
Save Food. Love People. To understand this slogan, you first have to appreciate the concept of “rescuing” food. Saving it from waste is a serious mission in itself, but what follows from the rescue effort is fantastic! Joy’s Kitchen serves 2500 families a month who come in to shop for free. In addition, in partnership with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Rocky Mountain Mutual Aid, and Lyft, another 2500 households a month are provided with fresh, nutritious food boxes. The reach extends beyond Lakewood, into areas that could well be called “food deserts” – urban areas with only fast-food and convenience stores, lacking real grocery stores. Five thousand families: 15,000 to 20,000 people. This many people benefit from Kathy’s idea – every month! A day’s work moves on average 6000 pounds of food, rescuing it from the waste stream and providing nutrition and enjoyment.
Six days a week, early in the morning, Joy’s workers in two trucks and two trailers go out and make the rounds of cooperating food retailers. They drive up to the docks in the back for their “rescue” mission. They go to King Soopers, Safeway, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Target, Walmart… each day has its own specified route, contracted in cooperation with Feeding America and Food Bank of the Rockies. Fully 90% of the food they gather is not compromised or expired; it is in beautiful condition. When “the rescue” arrives back at Joy’s the morning shift volunteers unload it, sort and separate it by type and condition. Food that is not suitable for distribution is separated out for animal feed or compost. Less than 1% goes to this final disposition. None of it goes to landfill. Each day, the operating model is zero start, zero finish. All the food that comes in goes out. There is a room full of commercial refrigerators and freezers for short-term holdovers, but ideally as Kathy said, “We are not a warehouse. All the food is for people, no delays and no holding back. It’s a beautiful balance of trust”
Every bit of the food in that balanced flow helps the earth by avoiding waste, and helps families maintain healthy diets while allowing that portion of their budgeted resources to be used for other needs.
Kathy put it this way: “What we do is empowering. Empowering a community that thinks they are in need and letting them know they are part of a solution to a big problem. It is a legacy of love.”
After the Ward 5 meeting was adjourned, Kathy led a tour of the Joy’s Kitchen facility in the lower level of the building. The Saturday morning volunteers were waiting for “the rescue” to come in. We were shown the layout of tables around the room, where the food would be dropped off at one end to be sorted and culled, and where it would be placed on tables arranged in a “U” shape for shoppers in the afternoon. In the door, shop from a single aisle around the “U” and leave by the other door. Shopping carts are available and it is an unhurried experience; no more than five shoppers at a time.
As Kathy was speaking, a Rescue trailer arrived up at the parking lot and the volunteers hustled out to start work unloading. The discussion continued as our tour group migrated outside to observe as we finished up the visit.
Q: Why is there so much waste? A: Marketing. Mostly it’s over-buying that the stores are pushed into by the desire to keep growing profits, and the buying public’s expectation of limitless quantity and perfection. The advertising industry has gotten us to expect that each piece of produce will be absolutely blemish-free. If an apple has a dent from bumping against a crate, out it goes. It’s a beautiful apple. If a brand of something is not selling as fast as it was supposed to, and the shelf space can be used for something that might bring more profit, out it goes.
Q: You said 90% of the food is “beautiful” and 1% goes to compost. What about…? A: The in-between is food you would use in the next few days. It’s still good food.
Q: Do you take donations of food? A: Yes, but not leftover party food or food that has been in a buffet. If you bought too much and have extra food, fresh or in unopened packaging, Joy’s is glad to have it. Donations of garden produce are welcome too. Very welcome.
Q: I see a clothing rack out in front. Do you take donations of clothing? A: Yes, but not too much at one time. It’s a useful thing for many of our customers but we just have a rack or two and there’s a balance with not too much stored here. Q: Sleeping bags, things like that? A: Sure.
Q: What is your financial situation? A: We operate on donations. We don’t have any grants or government funding. We are a 501(c)(3) entity so donations are tax deductible. We only have three employees, with most of the work being done by volunteers. Our budget is about $10,000 a month. That includes transportation, and fuel is starting to hurt us like everyone else. We put 120 miles a day on each of our vehicles. We have fundraisers, community events, dance parties. We have a brand of coffee that we sell to raise money also. You can find it on joyskitchen.org, along with all the other information about volunteering, getting food and donating.
The food distribution center is in the Southern Gables neighborhood at the Westwoods Community Church, 7700 W. Woodard Drive. There are no requirements to get food. You don’t have to be “in need” of food. By taking, using, and appreciating the food, you are part of a big solution to a big problem.
Food distribution hours are 1:00 to 3:00 PM on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On those days the volunteers spend the morning receiving the Rescue and preparing it for customers to come in and shop. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the work is mornings only, receiving the day’s Rescue and putting the food in boxes for distribution to our partner agencies.
The work of Joy’s Kitchen is accomplished almost entirely by volunteers. Shifts are 2 1/2 to 3 hours, 6 days a week. To find out about volunteering, go to joyskitchen.org. You will be helping neighbors, and just as importantly in the mission of Joy’s Kitchen, preventing waste of surplus food. And loving people.