HOUSTON - It wasn't until Barbara Bronstein retired from her marketing career that she found her true calling, rooted in something her family used to tell her as a young girl.
"(We had a) family value that said you finish your food. You don't waste food," Bronstein said.
She took that mantra to heart, and has used it to guide her to founding her own nonprofit.
In 2014, Bronstein started Second Servings with the mission of eliminating food waste in the Houston area.
For her, it was a matter of connecting the dots between two problems: a huge amount of wasted food (The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30-40 percent of food is wasted in the United States) and hunger in southeast Texas (1 in 5 people is food insecure, per statistics cited by the Houston Food Bank).
"We waste more now than we ever did before because we are a society of abundance,” Bronstein explained.
Second Servings is something like a food rescue. It gathers fresh produce and cooked meals from food manufacturers, distributors, restaurants and caterers, and then distributes that food to local charities.
"It's been prepared for banquets or for catered events, or at the sports arenas. It's just beautiful, freshly prepared food that has never left the kitchen," she said.
Bronstein estimates that Second Servings has rescued more than $6 million worth of food that would have otherwise been thrown in the trash.
And since Bronstein often gets her food from banquets, where patrons didn't show up to eat their meals, the kind of food her organization donates often includes high-end cuisine.
"It's food that could be as upscale as beef tenderloin or chicken roulades, or arugula and goat cheese salad. And a lot of time the charities have never experienced food like that," Bronstein said.
Local charities like Open Door Mission that house and feed men recovering from addiction are able to enjoy three-course meals free of charge thanks to Bronstein’s organization.
Dan Nix, the executive chef at Open Door, said the work Bronstein does is invaluable.
“Some of these guys haven't had a nice meal in years,” Nix said. “A lot of these guys come off the street. Most of our guys are homeless, with drug or alcohol problems, and to be able to come in have a clean place to sleep and a warm meal is huge."
Bronstein also petitions local companies to donate to Second Servings. Brother’s Produce often supplies Bronstein with fresh fruits and vegetables to give to charities.
"It's basically become her life, and she's doing so much and touching so many lives that people have no idea,” said Brent Erenworth, the CEO of Brother’s Produce.
For Bronstein, it is as much about a change in culture as it is about putting food on the table.
"If (people) started thinking about food waste the same way they thought about littering, I think that would be a big advance in our society."
To learn more about Second Servings, visit its website.
To donate, click here.
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