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University of Tennessee donates 1,000 pounds of food after each home game

A team of student volunteers partners with UT's Office of Sustainability to help feed vulnerable populations after game days.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — When the final whistle blows at Neyland Stadium, student volunteers from the Food Recovery Network's University of Tennessee chapter start to get ready.

Their work begins about an hour after the game finishes.

"Our mission is to prevent food waste," student president Michael Kennedy said. "It feels really nice to know that we're making a difference."

Every home game, a group of about seven students go through the leftover food to determine what an be donated. Kennedy said they make sure everything is properly packaged and labeled before they make a delivery.

Leah McCord, the food services coordinator in UT's Office of Sustainability, oversees the program each home week.

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"About 50-percent of all the food that we grow [worldwide], ends up in the landfill," she said. "If we stopped doing that, we could actually feed every hungry person on the planet."

McCord is an AmeriCorps VISTA member stationed at the University of Tennessee to tackle environmental and social justice issues.

Credit: Grace King

"It takes logistics, it takes manpower and it's not an overnight solution," she said. "But by doing this, we reduce the amount of food that goes to the landfill and we feed people in our community."

The food recovery program is part of UT's Zero Waste Game Day Initiative. The university partners with Athletics, Aramark, and Eastman's "Good Sports Always Recycle" to divert waste from landfills by recycling, composting and donating food.

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"Our goal is to raise our diversion rate for the home football games to 90-percent," said McCord. "We have a little ways to go, but we're making efforts and we're chipping away at it."

She said the student volunteers are a critical part of reaching UT's zero waste goal. Last year, they were able to donate 16,000 pounds of recovered food in total.

"They're really passionate. They're really gung ho. They show up at weird hours. They get filthy with us. They get super sweaty," she said with a laugh. "Without them, we just wouldn't be able to do this."

On Saturday, the food recovery team delivered about a thousand pounds of food to the Knox Area Rescue Ministries. 

"The meals that they brought here could feed over 800 people," said Karen Bowdle, director of public relations and communications for KARM. "We can make that food go a long way this week in feeding the guests that come through the doors of KARM."

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She was excited to see the fresh faces behind the donations.

"That is no easy task what they just did, bringing all that food over here," Bowdle said. "We are just grateful to know that young people like that are here in Knoxville and at the University of Tennessee, and that they have such giving hearts."

Michael Kennedy said that is one of the main reasons he chose to get involved with the Food Recovery Network three years ago.

"One of the biggest things is giving out and giving myself to other people," Kennedy said. "We're all working together to make a difference in this world."

UT's Office of Sustainability is always looking for more volunteers. Students can connect with the Food Recovery Network through VOLink. Passionate community members can email sustainability@utk.edu.