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Marylander recognized for fighting hunger

Consumer Goods IndustriesFood IndustryPanera Bread Company

A good deed can be as simple as giving a few coins or donating used clothing. But Gaithersburg resident Brett Meyers has taken the role of good Samaritan one step further, feeding families by turning waste into nourishment.

Meyers, who has spent most of his career in the food industry, founded the organization Nourish Now in May 2011, feeding the hungry with unused fresh food from restaurants and caterers.

"I worked at Panera Bread and other delis where a lot of food would get wasted at the end of each night," Meyers said. "I did some research and found the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which allows food to be donated to charity. A few years later, Panera started donating food and that inspired me to start Nourish Now."

In recognition of Meyers' efforts, he was voted a National Hunger Hero in a contest held by Beaulieu Vineyard, based in California. The award focuses on "volunteers making a huge difference in the world of hunger relief."

The winery donated $10,000 to the Montgomery County organization as a reward.

"I was amazed we won, being up against several nonprofits that have been around longer," Meyers said. "We can use the prize money to get more volunteers, put more refrigerated vans and trucks on the road, and have more people picking up food."

What began as a side project for Meyers has turned into a full-time venture. He helps pick up the food and delivers it himself with the help of volunteers. The nonprofit serves 200 families and donates goods to homeless shelters, schools and churches in Maryland.

"Our team has been able to donate 100,000 pounds of food in two years with a low budget," Meyers said. "Imagine what we could do with more funds."

One thing would be to reach even more families in need. Meyers hopes to do that by expanding to parts of Baltimore, northern Virginia and Washington within the next few years.

"The goal is to triple our budget so we can hire additional staff to assist Brett in the food pickup and delivery," said Zach Boisi, chairman of the Nourish Now board. "With the ability to hire more staff members who are certified with food pickup, we can dramatically increase the amount of pickups and deliveries we can do."

Boisi said Nourish Now is unique because unlike other organizations specializing in soup kitchen work or canned food drives, the nonprofit assists with food pickup.

"There is so much perishable food that gets discarded every night," he said. "What we're trying to do is serve that need and ensure the food without a long shelf life doesn't get wasted."

The driving force behind that goal is Meyers, Gaithersburg's hometown hunger hero.

"Brett brings passion and a great personality to the effort," Boisi said. "He's constantly networking and being a part of the food recovery process. He funded this himself the first year and it's because of his energy and sacrifice that we've come this far."

When raising awareness of his organization, Meyers, also the executive director of Nourish Now, keeps statistics on hand to prove that hunger is an ongoing global issue.

There are 96 billion pounds of food wasted each year. One in six people go hungry. Americans waste 40 percent of all purchased food.

These statistics add weight to a hunger relief movement Meyers says is gaining steam, locally and nationally.

"We give people an opportunity to have more food assistance and get some good meals from restaurants and catering companies," he said. "That way, they can save money for other things that they need to get through the month and they have a safety net so they can save money on food.

"I've always enjoyed helping people," Meyers said. "We're all connected and if we help each other, we can have a better planet. We want to end hunger and it probably won't happen in five years but it could happen."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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