Watching over 30,000 meals’ worth of excess food being thrown away each year from events and dining halls on campus at the University of Maryland, College Park, inspired Mia Zavalig, a junior at the school, and the other founding members of the Food Recovery Network to find a place for the sustenance.
Since September, the Food Recovery Network, having swelled to more than 200 volunteers from various student organizations at the university, has collected that unserved food and donated it to shelters and food kitchens in Washington, D.C., and Riverdale.
“It’s such a simple fix,” Zavalig, 21, an environmental science and policy major, said of the network’s efforts. “When you see the food that’s wasted, you’re like, ‘Wow.’”
The group’s “simple fix” was rewarded Wednesday when they won the Do Good Challenge, topping more than 100 philanthropic UM student groups vying for a $5,000 prize. Actor Kevin Bacon, Maryland alumna and nutritionist Joy Bauer, and former UM basketball coach Gary Williams awarded Food Recovery Network the top spot over five other finalists.
The Do Good Challenge started in February, when student groups were challenged by Bacon — in conjunction with other sponsors — in a video on the school’s website to raise money or awareness for a charitable cause of their choice. The Do Good Challenge grew out of an undergraduate class called The Art and Science of Philanthropy in which students study the practices of effective charitable organizations and then take over a $10,000 fund to distribute to charitable organizations. Professor Robert Grimm, who teaches the course, wanted to hold a campus-wide philanthropy competition and contacted Bacon and sixdegrees.org to coordinate the challenge.
More than 100 student groups responded with philanthropy projects, and six finalists were selected by a panel to compete for a $5,000 grant provided by the Motorola Mobility Foundation.
"Tonight is just the fun part," Bacon said of the awards event. "All the good stuff has already been done."
Food Recovery Network President Ben Simon said the funds will be used to purchase reuseable food containers to transport their food donations without waste, and to give startup money to students at other universities that want to organize a chapter on their own campus.
Simon said he’s also hoping to expand the organization’s partnership with more local shelters.
The food ministry at Christian Life Center in Riverdale has been receiving donations from Food Recovery Network for about a month, and the Rev. Ben Slye said the donations are a help.
“I love this program. These kids give their own time and drive their own vehicles,” said Slye, whose ministry acts as a middleman to distribute donated food to other shelters and kitchens in the county. “It’s one of the greatest programs out there, because they recognize that there’s not a shortage of food in this country, there’s a shortage of distribution.”
The women of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority came in second place in the competition for their breast cancer awareness campaign, which used social media and the number 1,688 — the number of female undergraduates at Maryland likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer — to encourage students to do monthly self breast exams. Third place went to the university’s chapter of Students Helping Honduras, a national organization raising funds to provide educational resources for students in the Central American country.
“What we’ve seen is a high interest in making a difference, but often students don’t have the tools they need to do that effectively,” said Grimm, who is director of the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, which was established in the spring. Sixdegrees.org and Network for Good — a Bethesda-based organization that facilitates online donations to charities — chose to work with UM on the challenge because of the center and its success.
While the university does not have an undergraduate degree program in philanthropy or nonprofit management, Grimm said the related classes the school does offer are growing rapidly, tripling the number of graduate students interested in the program’s Nonprofit Management and Leadership classes. The program, he said, is hoping to scale up in the near future.
“There’s been a decent amount of research that says there is a growing number of young people who are interested in getting involved in public service broadly,” Grimm said, adding that the university administration hopes to capitalize on that energy and make philanthropy a pillar of each student’s time at the university.
Grimm said that the university plans to repeat the competition next year, and he hopes that enthusiasm for philanthropy on campus grows even more.