Feed Spokane rescues food from restaurants, stores to feed the hungry
|Steven Brashears finds food for food pantries and meal sites.|
As executive director of Feed Spokane, Steven Brashears rescues quality food from hotels, restaurants and grocery stores.
Instead of food going to waste, it feeds hungry people through their coalition group that includes food pantries and meal sites.
Feed Spokane shares space, two walk-in refrigerators, a walk-in freezer and storage shelves with Greater Spokane County (GSC) Meals on Wheels at 218 N. Crestline, where GSC Meals on Wheels has a certified commercial kitchen to prepare its meals.
After he had stopped by GSC Meals on Wheels several years ago to set up meals for his father, he started volunteering.
Six years ago, Steven said he prayed, asking God, “What do you want me to do?” The simple answer that came was, “Feed my sheep.”
Since then he has been reinventing himself to serve in the nonprofit world of feeding hungry people.
“My main focus is to continue to find quality food sources,” he said.
While studying psychology and business at Eastern Washington University, the Spokane native began working full-time in the title insurance business. That job for him morphed into a career in mortgage banking—owning his own mortgage banking company, working for others for 35 years and working up to be vice president of lending at Bank of America. His career in banking took him to Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Seattle and back to Spokane.
After meeting Pam Almeida, executive director of GSC Meals on Wheels, he accepted an opportunity to work through an AmeriCorps grant for a year recruiting volunteer drivers. To recruit people, he talked with different groups, such as the Rotary and churches.
Steven, who grew up in Opportunity Christian Church and studied a year at Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Ore., attended different churches over the years, including Valley Assembly of God, Valley New Life and Burien Bible Church. He and Susie, his wife of 16 years, now attend Valley Assembly.
Valley Assembly of God, he said, has a simple message, “Love first!”
“I always had a servant’s heart and empathy to help people,” he said.
When he was two years old, Steven’s parents died in a car accident when they were in the military in occupied Japan after World War II. He came back to the U.S. and bounced around his father’s family until he was four. Then a family adopted him through his maternal grandmother’s church. She and two aunts were able to stay connected. As a child, he had experienced hunger, giving him empathy for others who are hungry.
“Jesus said ‘you will always have the hungry with you.’ Our goal is to make sure anyone who wants to eat can have a good quality meal from the food we rescue,” he said.
With skills to run a mortgage company that funded $200-million-dollar mortgage loans, he had skills to find food and was willing to learn what he didn’t know.
“The food industry is wild. I needed to learn about and then educate others on food safety related to the federal Good Samaritan Act, which also protects nonprofits and volunteers providing food for hungry people,” said Steven.
The Good Samaritan Act was set up to give legal protection to people who voluntarily offer aid in emergencies and other circumstances to help people who are injured or in danger—unless there is willful negligence.
Steven speaks with people in Spokane’s restaurants, hotels, motels and grocery stores to convince them to give Feed Spokane quality, outdated food they would otherwise throw away.
Steven said that Dave McGann, who owns Arby’s and is on the Feed Spokane board, has said he cannot understand why all restaurants don’t give away food.
“Many fear about the integrity of the food,” said Steven, “because they don’t want to be sued. The biggest roadblock is convincing restaurants it’s safe to donate food because of the Good Samaritan Act.”
A member of the Spokane Regional Health District is on the board and keeps them informed about food safety issues.
“We teach restaurants, hotels, motels and grocery stores how to handle and store the food, so they are willing to donate it rather than throw it away,” he said.
The Inland Northwest Community Foundation provided a grant for food safety training for each coalition group. They learn how to get permits and how to handle the food properly. The servers wear gloves and hair nets, sanitize the counters and wash their hands.
Feed Spokane supplies restaurants with sealable aluminum containers and lids. They put excess food in them, and place the containers in their walk-in coolers.
Donors also go by the “sell by” and “best used by” dates. Canned goods can go beyond the sell by date, and fresh produce has a shelf life, he explained.
Steven arranges for food to be picked up at the sources, and restaurants can also have food picked up on call.
“Food comes in and out quickly, which is part of keeping the food’s integrity,” Steven said.
Previously Feed Spokane had a truck, but drivers needed a PCL license and it was expensive to maintain. Now it has a refrigerated van to pick up food.
On Mondays, the food goes to the coalition of nonprofits, churches and meal sites that send representatives to “shop” for food at Feed Spokane. About 16 to 18 groups come then.
“We’re God’s all-volunteer army,” he said. “Volunteers put the food out, prepare it and set it up. When the coalition representatives come in at 11 a.m. Mondays, they pick up produce, frozen food and protein.”
Every evening, Tami Kennedy, past president and public relations director, sends out a list of the free meal sites. The meal sites keep Feed Spokane informed if they change their dates.
Indirectly, Feed Spokane helps feed 8,000 people a week through the coalition of 18 faith-based meal sites and food pantries.
Feed Spokane receives no government grants. Its support comes from grants from the Walmart Foundation, the Inland Northwest Community Foundation and other foundations.
It also holds three fundraisers.
• Its Friendraiser Breakfast will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, at the Salvation Army, 222 W. Indiana. The event builds awareness. The cook for GSC Meals on Wheels prepares the food and about 100 people attend.
• Dine Out to Feed Spokane in March involves local restaurants committing a day, week, month or an item to give a percentage of sales. It raises about $20,000.
• The third fundraiser is a Civic Theater performance on a Wednesday night in September. Feed Spokane’s 16 Board members sell tickets and tickets are also sold through Facebook. A major sponsor pays the fee to cover the theater costs, so proceeds all go to Feed Spokane.
“I enjoy visiting the coalition groups’ meal sites to meet people and see how the food is actually used,” Steven said.
Coalition members tell him that without Feed Spokane, they could not feed all the hungry people who come to their programs.
“I do this work because I know we make a difference,” he said.
Copyright © January 2017 - The Fig Tree