Industry the June 2018 issue

Thought for Food

How one good idea inspired a recipe for changing lives.
By Fiona Soltes Posted on May 23, 2018

Just a few miles away from the five-star luxury resort in Colorado Springs, the Springs Rescue Mission endeavors to treat those experiencing homelessness with dignity, respect and honor. That might mean they sit down to dinner at a table adorned with tablecloths and flowers. Or it might mean they get to use high-end towels to dry off after a shower. Or they receive a delicious banquet-quality meal.

The mission, home to Mission Catering (the organization’s for-profit social enterprise) and a culinary arts program for men in addiction recovery, recently added a rich new source of meals and ingredients. Local hotels, led by The Broadmoor, have begun donating banquet extras to the mission in significant quantities.

The initiative has taken almost a year to pull together. The Council provided help in dealing with legal issues. The hotel worked to garner community support. And the mission was able to secure donations for a new refrigerated truck for deliveries. And it all began with a question posed at a Council event.

Making It Work

Molly Cohen attended the June 2017 Employee Benefits Leadership Forum at The Broadmoor with her husband, Rob Cohen, then chair of The Council. She noticed the considerable amount of leftover food prepared for the meeting and spoke with her husband about it. As a pediatric nurse who worked for 31 years at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Cohen had long taken an interest in issues of global hunger and poverty. “It’s something I’m mindful of every day,” she says. She has volunteered with Denver-area food banks, making sandwiches with her church group for residents of low-income housing, and was bothered by the waste.

Rob Cohen, chairman and CEO of The IMA Financial Group, in Denver, mentioned it to Ken Crerar, president and CEO of The Council. Crerar previously had seen food recycling efforts work through the DC Central Kitchen—a community kitchen that works to reduce hunger and poverty. Crerar had casually mentioned the possibility of food recovery to the hotel before, but the conversation hadn’t gone far; there had been many unknowns, including concerns about potential liability. Now, however, the time seemed right to revisit the opportunity with a more formal, researched approach.

We were able to meet the needs of the more than 300 guests that we shelter every night with this extraordinary food. There was a lot of protein. A lot of vegetables. And it would have been thrown away
Larry Yonker, president and CEO, Springs Rescue Mission

This time he decided to dive in headfirst and brought a small legal team on board to explore the possibilities before presenting the idea to The Broadmoor.

“We go to Colorado Springs twice a year for meetings, and this was our 16th meeting in eight or nine years,” Crerar says. “We’re invested in the community, and people were excited about giving something back.”

On the surface, it would seem to be a no-brainer: people are hungry, and others have food to share. But it’s not so simple. Packaged donations are one thing; excess prepared foods are another. Restaurants and hotels often have been reluctant to donate these items, concerned that they might result in food poisoning due to improper handling.

That’s where Scott Sinder and Josh Oppenheimer entered the picture. Sinder, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Steptoe & Johnson, is chief legal officer for The Council. He previously joined Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit that aims to end childhood hunger, in working on the 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign. That experience, Sinder said, provided a “conceptual perspective” of food rescue efforts.

But it wasn’t until Crerar approached him about the legalities of making it happen at The Broadmoor that Sinder learned about the multitude of laws in place. He discovered Good Samaritan legislation that protects donors who give without malicious intent or knowledge of contaminated food.

“I’m an American lawyer, so the idea that, if something goes awry, people will sue you does not surprise me,” he says. As there are interlocking state and federal laws in place, one being more straightforward than the other, “we had an internal process in working this out.”

When Oppenheimer, an associate at Steptoe & Johnson, performed much of the initial legal analysis with Sinder’s assistance, they discovered a distinct lack of case law. It’s possible people haven’t sued because restaurants and hotels have not been willing to take the risk in the first place. It’s also possible the beneficiaries of such programs don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

In 2016, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance reported 25% of retail/wholesale respondents to a survey—and 39% of restaurant respondents—were concerned that food donations would expose them to liability. The FWRA also reports that up to 40% of the food grown, processed and transported in the United States will never be consumed and that nearly 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are short of food.

Less food waste is going to the landfill and, in turn, helping those in need—a true win-win situation for all.
Jack Damioli, president and CEO, The Broadmoor

And yet, Sinder and Oppenheimer were able to do what Crerar asked. They found a way to make it work. “It reminded me why I love working for Ken,” Sinder says. “It was another example of how he gets you into good things.”

Crerar brought the team’s research, combined with strategy from DC Central Kitchen, to Jack Damioli, president and CEO of The Broadmoor. He asked about donating surplus food items to an area organization during The Council’s next meeting. Damioli, already familiar with the good work of the Springs Rescue Mission, contacted Larry Yonker, the organization’s president and CEO. The Broadmoor confirmed it would be able to certify the food for donation to meet health requirements and even volunteered to deliver it.

“It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to do,” Damioli says. “I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to implement. I’m a resident of Colorado Springs, and I see what happens in the city on a daily basis. I see the need.”

Teamwork, Recovery and Growth

Springs Rescue Mission, founded in 1996, provides about 600 meals a day, seven days a week, to those experiencing homelessness. That’s nearly 220,000 meals a year, not counting special events at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The organization has seen the need rise significantly since 2014, when it provided 104,000 meals.

“The number of people experiencing homelessness here has doubled in the last few years,” Yonker says. “Everybody wants to blame the legalization of marijuana. I do think that has an impact on the behavior of our guests and the hopelessness they feel. It has brought transients to town, but I don’t think it has affected the chronically homeless.”

Yonker points instead to the fact that Colorado Springs is a “big military town,” with Fort Carson, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Schriever Air Force Base all nearby. Recent expansions and increases in housing prices have had a significant impact, as have the number of veterans challenged by post-traumatic stress and alcohol or drug addictions.

As part of serving its community, Springs Rescue Mission offers a behavioral, trauma-based residential recovery program in addition to job skill training in facilities management, warehouse management, customer service and culinary arts.

As for the meals, however, the mission spends between $100,000 and $120,000 annually on its food budget in addition to receiving items from the area food bank and other organizations. Receiving banquet excess, then, could mean an extensive drop in costs and the ability to expand.

In several trial runs last fall, starting with The Council’s Insurance Leadership Forum in October, The Broadmoor donated more than 3,500 pounds of food to the mission. The resort’s traditional practice is to prepare extra food for banquet buffet meals to ensure various items won’t run out, so none of the food donated had been previously served—or even taken out of the kitchen.

These donations, however, are not just about quantity; they’re also about quality. Beef tips and leg of lamb, for example, may be served as prepared or, more importantly, repurposed in other recipes to feed more people. Some guests, Yonker says, have tasted asparagus for the first time.

“You would expect the food from The Broadmoor to be great,” he says. “From the standpoint of the impact it had on us, with that first trial, for four days we were able to serve our homeless guests with these items.

We were able to meet the needs of the more than 300 guests that we shelter every night with this extraordinary food. There was a lot of protein. A lot of vegetables. And it would have been thrown away. It was an amazing experience.”

An Awesome One

But Damioli wasn’t finished. In early January, he met with the Pikes Peak Lodging Association, which includes hotels in the Colorado Springs area. He explained the program and asked for assistance, and four additional hotels immediately stepped up to participate. “I’m still working on other properties,” he says. “It’s still early, and it’s taking everyone a little while to work through the logistics and figure out this is a good thing for everyone. Less food waste is going to the landfill and, in turn, helping those in need—a true win-win situation for all.”

A refrigerated truck has now been purchased with a combined $50,000 donation from the El Pomar Foundation and Anschutz Family Foundation. The Denver-based Anschutz family owns The Broadmoor; the foundation is the charitable organization co-founded by Spencer Penrose, the Philadelphia-born businessman who settled in Colorado Springs in 1892 and opened The Broadmoor in the summer of 1918.

There have been other collaborations, too. Guests from Springs Rescue Mission and other local nonprofits helped serve hot chocolate at an event at The Broadmoor’s Seven Falls attraction during the holidays and received proceeds from admission. The resort’s owners have contributed to a current expansion project at the mission to accommodate increasing demand. And Damioli hopes for further collaboration and training opportunities between the culinary staff of both organizations.

According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, nearly 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are short of food

“This was just a great example of teamwork, where one person comes up with an idea and somebody else jumps on it and then somebody else takes it to the next level,” Rob Cohen says. “We get together as an industry, and the meeting is phenomenal from the standpoint of us exchanging ideas and information. But if you think about the fact that we can affect and change the world at the same time, that takes an already great meeting and turns it into an awesome one.”

Yonker, always happy for additional resources and compassionate hearts, knows that stereotypes and misconceptions still exist about those experiencing homelessness. In whatever way possible, the mission works to meet people where they are and help them get back on their feet. In the last two years, 40 men have graduated its addiction recovery program gainfully employed. Even on the mission’s campus, there’s a focus on optimism with bright colors and well maintained facilities—with all of the cleaning and facilities work performed by those the mission serves.

“You see smiles,” Yonker says. “Sometimes they’re toothless smiles, but they feel like they have a purpose again. They feel like they have value. And serving really nice food like this, it’s kind of over-the-top as far as giving people the sense of being just like anybody else. It’s nice to be treated that way…. We try to make the experience as positive as we can so they can see hope and they can see their lives differently.”

In coming days, Yonker says, he sees “a lot of things blossoming” in the relationship between the mission and the resort. “They’re the five-star hotel, and we’re the no-star hotel,” he says. “But with this kind of food rescue, we just might turn into a two-star.” An added bonus: The Broadmoor donated the luxury towels that mission guests use after showers.

“I joke that 70% of the people in Colorado Springs have never dried off with a Broadmoor towel,” Yonker says. “But I’ve got 300 guests using them here. It’s kind of funny, but it’s also fun. These little touches affect people in ways we can’t explain. It’s really neat to see The Broadmoor understand how blessed they are and how unique they are in a community like this.”

Fiona Soltes Contributing Writer Read More

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