Johnnies Team Up With Dining Hall to Donate More than 2,500 Pounds of Food to Annapolis Homelessness Center
June 23, 2023 | By Meliha Anthony (A25)
When three St. John’s College students showed up unannounced at the Annapolis Light House in March to donate food for the first time, Kelly Rulle, the homeless prevention support center’s pantry coordinator, was taken by surprise. But according to Rulle, “it was a welcome surprise.”
Since that first trip, St. John’s has donated 2,539 total pounds of food to the Light House. Student Madelyn Minor (A24) headed the initiative, reviving the college’s Food Recovery Network (FRN) during the 2023 spring semester after the group faced two major obstacles–first the pandemic, then a lack of leadership–and fell into a lull.
On average, college students generate as much as 110 pounds of food waste per student annually, according to a recent study of 20 Bon Appetit-managed colleges conducted by the National Resource Defense Council. Figures like this one motivated a group of University of Maryland students in 2010 to rescue surplus cafeteria food and donate it to local hunger-fighting nonprofits. Their efforts led to the formation of the Food Recovery Network, a nationwide student movement tackling campus food waste that today encompasses nearly 200 campus chapters, including one founded several years ago at St. John’s.
Minor recalls meeting Elise Dudley, a sustainability fellow with the campus dining hall’s management company Bon Appétit, through a campus event. During their conversation, Dudley mentioned the FRN’s previous efforts at St. John’s College.
“I asked her what had to happen … for it to start up again,” Minor says. “She said they just needed a point person to coordinate the different groups, and I said, ‘Oh, I can be that person!’”
Minor, who is currently a summer intern with the International Rescue Committee, contacted key individuals around campus including Michael Cleary, the general manager for Bon Appétit in the dining hall, to begin collecting and distributing the cafeteria’s uneaten food.
“It’s a system that creates leftovers,” Cleary says, describing everyday practices in food service and the safety regulations that make leftovers and food waste unavoidable. According to him, most leftovers cannot be re-served, and there are also rules regarding “time and temperature abuse” that require food to be thrown away if it’s been sitting out for long.
“I feel much better about what we do here … if any of the waste that we are generating at least has another chance to feed somebody,” Cleary says. “At least somebody has a chance to eat it and to get some nourishment from that.”
In addition to Cleary, Minor received support from first-year student Ali Shawamreh (A26) and upperclassmen including Alayna Raymond (A23) and Luke Briner (A24), both from campus volunteer group Project Polity—Minor affectionately describes Project Polity and the FRN as “partners in crime.” Together the group transported and delivered meals to the Light House along with non-perishable items from Project Polity’s fall and spring food drives.
“It was really heartwarming how many people wanted to help,” Minor says. “Once the ball gets rolling, so many people will lend their hands.”
The Light House has limited residency for unhoused individuals but provides other services to support and empower them. Rulle, the pantry coordinator at the Light House, explains the nonprofit’s work and programs, listing opportunities including a client-choice pantry set up like a grocery store, a “social enterprise” restaurant called the Light House Bistro where clients work and gain job skills, and client advocacy to help locate long-term housing.
“We’re trying to break the cycle of homelessness,” Rulle says, adding that “getting to know people, making them happy, knowing what they want” is her favorite part of her job. “Making them smile, that’s the best part,” she says.
Minor is optimistic about the future of St. John’s reinvigorated FRN chapter. An excited smile lights up her face as she holds up a newly printed “St. John’s Food Recovery Network” T-shirt during a recent Zoom conversation, discussing plans for next year and the possibility for first- and second-year students, including Shawamreh, to take on leadership roles. As far as Minor and her teammates are concerned, the campus Food Recovery Network is just getting started.
“It’s nice to feel like you’re not just a philosopher sitting in a cold dark room in the back parts of campus with no connection to the wellness of the community,” says Shawamreh, who provided transportation for the FRN’s donation trips. “This is a really good way … to connect on that level.”
The Food Recovery Network at St. John’s College is looking for assistance and drivers with cars. Students, faculty, and staff are all welcome; visit foodrecoverynetwork.org or contact Madelyn Minor () for more information.