Connecting food-insecure folks with catering leftovers, an innovative approach in Maryland

Many Marylanders will get a free meal on Thanksgiving Day, but struggle with enough to eat the rest of the year.

A bounty of food. That is what you’ll get at most wedding receptions, banquets and gala dinners. Event planners and caterers tend to buy too many nibbles and cook more than needed, usually by as much as 20%, because the one thing they don’t want is to run out. That is a major no-no.

That means at the end of the night there is almost always plenty left over — and that food normally winds up in the trash. All the buttered rolls, shrimp cocktail and chocolate cake that people were too full to eat goes to waste.


The Maryland Food Bank has taken notice and is trying out an initiative to eliminate that waste, while also helping to feed the hungry. About one in nine Marylanders are considered food-insecure, or don’t have enough to eat. Some of us look forward to a feast on Thanksgiving Day, while too many others will depend on the charity of food kitchens, churches and other non-profits to feed them that day.

Under its new Middle Mile program, the Maryland Food Bank is linking those in the hospitality, restaurant and event businesses in Baltimore with volunteers who can immediately take leftover food to soup kitchens and other non-profits that feed the hungry. The businesses can use an app to see what volunteers are available.


Before, businesses faced the dilemma of how to transport the food quickly, because it was already cooked. They couldn’t let it sit overnight and risk it not being safe to eat. And most didn’t have the resources or time to try to find a non-profit to take the food. Now, with on-demand volunteers that come equipped with insulated bags, the food gets to those in need right away.

The food bank had “recovered” more than 6,200 pounds of food, or 5,167 meals, in Baltimore through the initiative as of the end of October. The Baltimore Convention Center and the National Aquarium are among the groups that have turned to the program to get rid of excess chicken dinners and other meals. The Baltimore Farmer’s Market has donated produce using the food bank’s web of volunteers and Pitango Bakery in Fells Point has been able to give its gourmet sandwiches to people in need.

The program has allowed the food bank to tap into new food sources to feed Baltimore’s hungry. The food insecurity rate in Baltimore is twice that of the national average, but less than 10% of food comes from within the city. The food bank distributed more than 10.5 million pounds of food in Baltimore last year, and only 700,000 came from donors located in the city.

The Middle Mile program is a promising initiative that is helping to get hot meals to those who need it while helping restaurants and other business reduce their food waste. The early results show that it is a program that could and should be expanded throughout the state.

We need more of these kinds of innovative ideas to help end the problem of hunger in Maryland. The economy is improving if you look at the stock market and low unemployment rate, but that isn’t true for everyone. Too many people are still suffering and wondering where they will get their next meal.

The Maryland Food Bank distributed more than 48 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2019, which was almost 10% more than the previous year. The organization believes it needs to give out 61 million pounds a year to adequately feed the 650,000 people without enough to eat.

Plenty of people will step forward to make sure people have a decent meal on Thanksgiving Day. We all need to remember the rest of the year as well.