Food and floral arrangements are critical pieces to an event, but they are also two elements that inevitably get dumped in the trash once guests have left. Coordinating the delivery and donation of food in an efficient way is a difficult challenge for planners to execute on their own. However, more planners are coordinating the donation of leftover food and flowers to waste less and serve their communities more.
In New York City in 2013, Robert Lee co-founded Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a nonprofit that connects leftover food to homeless shelters, food pantries and organizations. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine now operates in 16 cities collecting donations from markets, restaurants and events, and bringing those to nearby organizations chosen by proximity and need. The nonprofit’s team of volunteers completes about 200 pickups per week and has donated 1.7 million total meals for the hungry. To help facilitate the process, the organization charges a $200 fee for pickup.
Rescuing leftover food is a critical solution to helping millions of Americans who experience food insecurity, Lee says. “We produce enough food to feed everyone,” he says. “One-third of excess food… can solve food insecurity.”
In some cases, corporations have partnered directly with food pantries to coordinate donations. This year, MGM Resorts International announced it will begin donating unserved food from Las Vegas events at Aria, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mirage to Three Square, the only food bank in Southern Nevada. Three Square serves more than 279,000 food-insecure people in the region.
“During events, even with the best planning, some food almost always remains unserved,” says Yalmaz Siddiqui, vice president of corporate sustainability at MGM Resorts. “And even with strong inventory management processes, some food and beverage often remains unused in minibars and warehouses. We wanted to do more to manage that waste.”
So far, MGM Resorts has donated more than 450,000 pounds of food, or 375,000 meals, since the program began.
Both MGM Resorts and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine say a common misconception is that prepared, perishable food cannot be donated safely. Lee says many planners assume donating leftover cooked food is illegal. “Knowing that food can be donated is almost half the battle for a lot of the people who reach out to us,” he says.