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Redwood Empire Food Bank gets creative to eliminate food waste

Redwood Empire Food Bank gets creative to eliminate food waste
Redwood Empire Food Bank gets creative to eliminate food waste 03:15

SANTA ROSA -- No food goes to waste at the Redwood Empire Food Bank.  Any donated food that does not get bagged up for grocery distribution, the food bank makes into fresh meals that are ready to eat with those leftover bulk ingredients. 

At 10 a.m. sharp every day, the food bank's kitchen gets to work.  It is an all-hands on deck process, following the direction of Chef Don Nolan.  

Volunteers cook up the recipes he comes up with that very morning, after looking at what he has. 

"What I have available is what I end up making,"  Nolan said.

In the pantry today: yogurt, pumpkin, spices, almonds and wheat flour. 

"We take food that comes in really large quantities, and this is food that is difficult for us to distribute to individuals but people want to still give it to us," Nolan said.  "So we take those large quantities of food and make them into something different, something healthy, something that they are going to want to meet."

This is part of the Redwood Empire Food Bank's program called On The Spot Nutrition. 

It is a small snack, sometimes savory, sometimes sweet, for all the people waiting in line to receive their grocery bags from the food bank. 

"People come up to the lines and it may be their first meal of the day," Nolan said. 

The only way the food bank can make it happen, is with the help of plenty of sous-chefs, also known as their volunteers. 

"Food is so important to my family," said Leigh Stokes from Healdsburg.  "We commune over food, we love food, everybody likes to cook. It's a way to share that love and that appreciation with people who don't have it as good as we do."

Stokes worked in a kitchen in Healdsburg until it closed in 2019. 

"I wanted to use my skills and my love of it to give back to the community, to help the community, to do something with food that is hands on," Healdsburg said.  "And this is a great place and a great kitchen."

Unlike Stokes though, no professional cooking experience is necessary to volunteer.  After a food safety course, volunteers learn what to do from Nolan to get the job done. 

Every day in this kitchen alone, each volunteer makes at least 100 meals for people waiting in line. 

"The more volunteers we have, the more meals we can make and the more mouths we can feed," Nolan said. 

In just one week, the kitchen serves these nutrient-packed small meals for at least 5,000 people.  

"We are very creative," Nolan said.  "We take ingredients that are local, that are in season, and I pair them together."

Although it's snack size, this meal makes a big difference to eliminate food waste and fill up hungry stomachs in the Bay Area. 

Redwood Empire Food Bank delivers their On The Spot Nutrition meals to Sonoma County, Lake County and they are starting to branch up to Mendocino County.   

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