DC-area restaurateur offers tips on what not to give during food drives

Are you interested in making food donations to a local kitchen or pantry, but aren’t sure that what you’re giving will help? Local chef and restaurateur Mark Bucher has some suggestions.

Bucher is no novice when it comes to feeding the areas most vulnerable. When food insecurity spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, the owner of Medium-rare jumped in, providing more than 30,000 meals to the areas’ hungry in just the first few months.

By the summer of 2020, when it was clear that the region’s underprivileged children stuck in remote learning would have difficulty, Bucher and partners launched Feed the Fridge, an ongoing program that installed refrigerators at nine Parks and Rec centers and started filling them up every day with meals.

To date, Feed the Fridge has distributed more than 300,000 free meals and has a goal of giving out 500,000 meals by the end of 2021.

Learn more about Feed the Fridge here.

Speaking to WTOP’s Mike Murillo at a Thanksgiving food drive, Bucher said during the course of his community work, he has learned a lot about food donations: namely what works and what doesn’t.

“When we go to the food pantries … we would notice all the canned goods and all the pasta like on the curb. And we would ask them, ‘why are they leaving the food behind?’ And the volunteers would say, they don’t like it. They don’t want to eat it.”

But when Bucher talked to the actual food recipients, he discovered it wasn’t a matter of taste, at all.

“They said ‘We don’t have pots and pans; we can’t cook this stuff. We don’t have can-openers,’” Bucher said.

In talking to those most in need, Bucher learned many simply don’t have the kitchen facilities, or the equipment, to prepare raw ingredients.

“When you give ingredients to food pantries, think about ingredients that people can cook without pots and pans or that are easier to manage,” he said.

Bucher also said nonperishable, canned foods are problematic when you don’t have a working kitchen.

“Canned tomatoes. What are you gonna do with those?” he said. “And, you know, the canned goods that are out of date in your pantry? Throw [them] away.”

Bucher recommends talking to local food kitchens about what specific ingredients they need to provide fresh, prepared meals to those in need.

In addition, when providing a fresh, prepared meal is not an option, Bucher had another suggestion which would spread the donation even further.

“Give them a gift card to a local restaurant. The restaurants need support,” he said. “Let’s send people to restaurants to have a dignified family dinner together.”

On the future of Feed the Fridge and food donations through the holiday season, Bucher maintained that it’s a community effort.

“If I could provide meals for everyone like this all year round I would. If people want to donate to feedthefridge.org, we’ll take every dollar and we’ll put a meal on someone’s plate … We are in the season of giving, people.”

Those who would like to make a donation to Feed the Fridge can visit their website: www.feedthefridge.org.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

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Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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