Food Recovery Network aims to reduce food waste, fight hunger in Syracuse | #students | #parents

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Adrienn Virag noticed large amounts of food going to waste every night while working in Graham Dining Hall during her freshman year. Dining halls can’t predict how many people they will feed, so they will often overproduce, Virag said, but seeing food being thrown out was still troubling to everyone.

Virag, now a sophomore, is now the president of the Food Recovery Network, an organization that works to resolve the food waste dilemma many dining halls face. The volunteer-based program aims to simultaneously reduce food waste and fight hunger in the greater Syracuse area.

“By taking food from (the Syracuse University dining halls) and giving it to organizations in the community that need it, we tackle both of those things at the same time,” said Zander Leff, the secretary of FRN.

This student-run organization began at SUNY-ESF as an environmental initiative, and later migrated to the SU campus because there are more dining halls. Although FRN is part of a larger national organization, it operates relatively independently from the national organization, Leff said.


The food recovery process is simple but effective, said Virag, Leff and Hannah Elias, the organization’s treasurer. The e-board, which all three are on, decides which dining halls to collect from, where to deliver the food and when to complete the transfer. They then reach out to a list of volunteers and form a group to go to a certain dining hall, where either volunteers or dining hall employees package and weigh the food. Finally, the food is loaded into a volunteer’s car and delivered to an organization in need.

The network mainly provides and delivers food to various nonprofit organizations around the city, including the Chadwick Residence, Teen Challenge and the DePalmer House, all of which provide shelter and food to marginalized groups in need throughout Syracuse.

Currently, the organization has a volunteer base of about 50 people and aims to recover food from two to four dining halls per night, Virag said. Dining halls have previously provided up to 200 pounds of food in just one 30-60-minute recovery session. Last semester alone, FRN recovered a total of seven tons of food across SU dining halls.

“Our big goals are to fight hunger and food waste,” Virag said.

But COVID-19 stunted FRN’s progress, as many organizations in Syracuse, especially shelters, ran at reduced capacity throughout the pandemic, making it difficult for FRN to reach as many people as it did before. Additionally, although volunteers were always careful and sanitary with food, COVID-19 made sanitation a greater concern in recent years, said Virag.

Nevertheless, being a part of FRN brings satisfaction and joy to its members, the three e-board members said. Elias called it a noble, rewarding experience that enriches students’ college years.

“It sounded like something that was really impactful,” Elias said. “It’s nice to see a group at the school actually doing something with the community and volunteering time to help those around them.”

During the fall 2021 semester, the network set a goal of connecting with more organizations in the greater Syracuse area. Since many nonprofit organizations are currently running at limited capacity and cannot accept as much food, FRN is looking for more organizations to donate to.

In response to this disparity, e-board members encourage both SU and SUNY-ESF students to reach out and connect FRN with any organizations in need of food.

“The more people we have, the more agencies we have, the more we can do,” Leff said.

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