A new program in Bend is taking leftover food from the cafeteria at Central Oregon Community College that would usually be thrown away and saving it for a hot meal each Sunday at the Salvation Army.

Several organizations have come together for the program: the college, the Salvation Army, Family Kitchen, Cascade Youth & Family Center, NeighborImpact and High Desert Food & Farm Alliance.

Volunteers from Family Kitchen and Cascade Youth & Family Center pick up the leftover food from the college twice a week and bring it to Family Kitchen. The kitchen’s volunteers then prepare the food for a hot meal each Sunday at the Salvation Army’s Bend location at 515 NE Dekalb Ave.

NeighborImpact and High Desert Food & Farm Alliance, which help coordinate the program, are working to expand it to other kitchens in the region.

Since the program launched this summer, it has saved more than 1,000 pounds of food and provided more than 1,400 free meals.

Meiko Lunetta, program coordinator at High Desert Food & Farm Alliance, credits the success of the program to each partner organization using its strengths. Together, the organizations are able to store, transport, prepare and serve the food to those in need.

“To me, it really just shows the strength of our community when we start to collaborate together,” Lunetta said.

Before the program started, Sunday was the only day in Bend that people could not get a free hot meal. The Bend Community Center had provided meals Sundays, but the center closed in February.

“That left a gap in meal service,” said Donna Burklo, program director at Family Kitchen. “We had been trying to figure out how to make that Sunday meal happen.”

When volunteers pick up the extra food from the college cafeteria, what’s available is a surprise. It depends on what food is left over from student meals and catered events at the college. Examples include trays of lasagna, macaroni and cheese or taco beef.

Having a random assortment of food allows the volunteers to get creative. The leftover food often supplements what has been donated to Family Kitchen. A popular Sunday meal was a burrito bar, where people could choose what to put in their burrito.

The variety of food each week lets people have more choice in their meals, as well, Burklo said.

“We formed it in such a way that there is a lot of choice, which is not usually the case for people in need of assistance,” Burklo said.

Owen Murphy, an associate professor in the Health Promotion Department of Health and Human Performance at COCC, often helps transport the leftover food from the college to Family Kitchen each Wednesday.

Similar efforts have happened at the college to save leftover food, but this program is able to save much more food and create more meals, Murphy said.

“It’s kind of a well-oiled machine now,” he said. “It’s a nice way to divert food that would otherwise end up in the landfill.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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