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Shared Stories Stories of Food Sustainability

Doing More

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Curator’s Note: As told by Heather Payne, District Marketing Director Chartwells Higher Education, to the Food for Thought editorial staff, and used with permission.

Every Tuesday, on the way to school near downtown Chicago, my children are faced with something that they’ve never had to experience in their own lives. It’s a line of people, there every week, waiting to visit the Food Pantry at any of the three churches located within a one-block radius. Sometimes the people are there three times a week, sometimes twice a day, but when your children readily recognize that Tuesday’s are ‘Food Pantry’ days, you can’t help but wish that you could do something more to help. It’s why, in addition to helping my children to appreciate and understand why we have so much when others don’t, I take an active role in implementing food recovery programs at Chartwells Higher Education. It’s so that I may play my part in doing more for our community.

My involvement with food recovery first began three years ago, when I was the Unit Marketing Manager working with the University of Illinois. I was active with a sustainability-focused, on-campus group, and in implementing local initiatives, a food recovery program naturally eventuated. And while we were the first Compass location in Chicago to become an official chapter with food recovery, starting the official program wasn’t without its challenges.

While we had experienced success donating pre-packaged food, we also wanted to donate ‘unserved’ food, but there were safety and sanitation issues involved that we hadn’t had to consider before. Thankfully, we worked with the students and discovered a “Good Faith” clause, which stipulates unserved food can be donated, as long as it’s donated in good faith. This was a huge hurdle to overcome, but through working together and discovering a solution, it created an immense amount of opportunities.

Transportation of food donations was also a challenge, but again, one that we overcame thanks to the ingenuity of our students, who suggested we start working with an on-campus bicycle club. With this initiative, not only were we able to engage more students, who would pick up the food donations with their bicycles, but we also received on-campus grant money to put towards the food recovery cycle project. It was another shining example of how dedicated and engaged students can be, and what can be achieved when working together.

Now, I have taken on a district role where I oversee eight schools, four of which are in the Chicago area. We currently have 80% participation with food recovery programs, but my goal is to achieve 100% participation. The programs are student run, which means they can, at times, fizzle out, but we work closely with the school communities to help prevent this from happening. Elmhurst College, for example, has made the program a mandatory class, which sees the students become even more dedicated, and an initiative we are again working to expand across all schools.

Living and working in a huge metro area, it’s undeniable just how important food recovery is – not just in terms of benefiting the community, but in terms of sustainability and eliminating waste too. It’s something I feel so strongly about, and I am heartened that I am not alone in this passion. In fact, when DePaul University ran a donation campaign recently, the level of engagement from our front-line associates, in encouraging people to donate, went well beyond my wildest dreams. Being involved in the campaign, they had such a sense of pride and a level of engagement I had never witnessed before – and as you can tell, I have seen some pretty engaged participants! It really is a testament to how vital our food recovery programs are, as well as the people who work to implement them – without them, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the results we do.


Heather Payne, District Marketing Director, Chartwells Higher Education


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