In fall of 2013, Maryville College freshman Brandon Denney was preparing snacks for an after school program called The Open Door at New Providence Presbyterian Church. Fresh fruits and vegetables lined the trays that a handful of high school students would enjoy when they arrived at the gym.
As Denney and his friends were making the snacks, they could not help but think of The
Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, another local organization that offers programs for kids after school, which could not afford to give snacks to their kids at all, especially not snacks as healthy and fresh as the ones at The Open Door.
Denney and his friends wondered briefly why one group should have access to good food while the others do not. That small realization planted an idea in Denney that would eventually grow into something much bigger.
Beginning in the spring of his junior year, Denney began making what he called “bread runs” to local organizations that distribute food to the needy. He would pick up unused bread from local businesses, and then deliver them to nonprofits all over the area.
But it wasn’t until that summer when Denney’s little bread runs would turn into a full-scale program at MC.
In June 2015, Denney attended the Summer Leadership Institute, an annual event where Bonner Scholars across the country come together to share their ideas on how to make the world a better place.
There he met an organization called The Food Recovery Network (FRN), which works with college campuses to donate unused food items to community organizations. Denney remembered his experience cutting up apples at The Open Door, and realized that the FRN was the perfect way to feed places that cannot afford food on their own.
“[I realized] I could totally do this,” Denney said. “This is a need in Blount County.”
Hunger is a huge issue in the Blount County area. Denney pointed out that one- in -six kids in Blount County go hungry every day while the American population wastes over 42 million pounds of food every year.
Denney knew that the key to ending hunger in Blount County was to collect the food before it went into the trash, so when Denney returned to MC that summer he contacted Metz Dining Services and the FRN. By that July, MC had its own FRN chapter and could begin donating unused food from Pearsons and Isaac’s to local charities.
Thus far, Denney and the FRN have donated more than 767 pounds of food, which, according to Denney, is over 75% of what the University of Tennessee donated last year. His current goal is for MC to donate over 5,000 pounds of food by the end of the 2015–16 academic year, and he says that he believes that the college can do it.
Not only is reducing MC’s food waste good for fighting hunger in Blount County, but it is also good for the environment. As a biochemistry major, Denney is acutely aware of how food waste influences issues like global warming and climate change.
“It doesn’t just degrade in a landfill…” said Denney. “If you throw a banana peel on the ground it biodegrades. But if you have a mountain of food with no oxygen getting in the middle…it can produce methane which is significantly worse than CO2.”
Because this is an environmental issue as well as a social issue, Denney is working closely with MC’s Environmental Action Team to spread the word about the program and to get volunteers to help with food deliveries.
Denney said the support he has gotten from MC administration and Metz is what has made it possible for this program to get off the ground. At the start,the FRN warned him that campus dining services were often unwilling to cooperate with the donation program, but Metz jumped on board immediately.
“Having the support of campus dining and Bonner has been wonderful,” said Denney.
The experience of starting the program has also been personally enriching for Denney. He says his motivation to make MC a more sustainable campus comes from his love of science.
“I’m interested in how science can be used to benefit the world,” said Denney. “I feel like being involved in this is helping me get a [new] perspective and helping me to get in contact with people who are also passionate about the same things.”
He added that the service he does through the FRN is a lot of fun. Denney has been a volunteer at a number of different Blount County nonprofits, but he says FRN is his favorite service program of them all.
“You see people getting that food, and you’re directly involved in the process,” said Denney.
For students who would also like to be involved with FRN, contact Denney at [email protected].