Following its recent commencement exercises, Harvard University donated approximately 5,000 lbs. of surplus food to local nonprofit Food for Free, which in turn delivered the food to Greater Boston’s emergency food system for immediate use and consumption. The surplus food is the result of more than 300 events feeding approximately 95,000 students, parents, faculty, and alumni who are on campus to celebrate commencement.
Food for Free, which is based in Cambridge, has been working to bridge the gap between waste and want. In an effort to address chronic hunger among its neighbors in Cambridge and Boston, Harvard partnered with the organization in 2015. In a typical week the University donates nearly 2,500 lbs. of food – or 2,000 nutritious meals – to families in need.
The initiative builds on Harvard’s long commitment of community engagement, which includes extensive partnerships with local schools and creating and preserving affordable housing.
In Harvard’s 14 undergraduate dining halls, the challenge is to maintain a menu that matches the demand for 6,600 undergraduate students, nearly 98 percent of whom live on campus and participate in the meal plan. To ensure that breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available for every undergraduate, Harvard University Dining Services prepares approximately 19,500 meals per day and so there is regularly a modest amount of food beyond what is consumed. In the past, excess fresh food has been composted. This program however ensures that untouched food is instead provided to those who need it most.
“The food from Harvard is very healthy, easy to reheat, and simple to serve. None of it has to be cooked from scratch, which is not only time-consuming, but oftentimes not possible as some of our recipients live in motels or on the street where cooking options don’t exist. This is a new way of doing food redistribution and it has really been making a difference in the battle on hunger,” said Sasha Purpura, executive director of Cambridge-based Food for Free.
“This new program further demonstrates Harvard’s interest in partnering with providers in the community to create innovative efforts to support local families,” said Kevin Casey, associate vice president for public affairs and communications. “This is a wonderful example of what can happen when local organizations work together to help meet an important community need.”