Waste Not Want Not celebrates 30 years of service to NE Florida

Organization that fights hunger, poverty has collected 22 million pounds of food – and counting

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ORANGE PARK – Getting the volunteers with Waste Not Want Not to raise their glasses in a 30th birthday toast wasn’t difficult. With more than 140 volunteers, getting them all in the same photo proved to be a greater challenge.

There was plenty to celebrate on Feb. 1 when the nonprofit that’s committed to rescuing food destined for landfills and putting it on the plates of hungry residents marked 30 years of service to the Clay County area.

“It started with one woman, one store, one charity,” said executive director Sandra Staudt-Killea. “To survive this long is a real fete. Most nonprofits don’t last this long.”

And the group is only getting stronger.

In the past 30 years, Waste Not Want Not has worked with local groceries, bakeries, restaurants, vendors and farmers to save more than 22 million pounds of “perfectly good food that would have ended up at the dump,” Staudt-Killea said. More than 2.1 million pounds was redistributed last year.

The organization started in 1990 when Debra Smyers started collected soon-to-be-outdated, but unmarketable, food from the Publix at Pine Tree Plaza in Orange Park and delivering it to the St. Francis Soup Kitchen in Jacksonville. She recruited a couple friends, including Karen Helseth and Mary Cobb, to create one of the most-successful charitable organizations in Northeast Florida.

Food collected is taken to food pantries, missions, soup kitchens, group homes, support meetings and weekend backpack programs in 10 local counties, including Clay.

Not only has Waste Not Want Not expanded from Smyers’ garage to Grace Episcopal Church of Orange Park, both Helseth and Cobb still are involved,

“I started with this because it was at my church,” Cobb said. “I still do it because it’s important to volunteer. The people who need us are always so glad to see us. They’re always so grateful. It’s something you love to do. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Hopefully, I will keep doing it for another 30 years.”

Helseth and Cobb were recognized at the birthday party for their continued service. Jack Eccleston, Wilma Miller and Helen Howard were honored for serving at least 20 years.

“Every little bit, everything every volunteer does, all together we’re rescuing anywhere from 4,000-to-7,000 pounds of food a day,” Staudt-Killea said.

Research shows more than 25% of the food that’s produces is thrown away before it reaches the consumer, Staudt-Killea said, and half of the food bought is tossed out. Also, food doesn’t become spoiled on its sell-by date, either, she said.

For more information or to volunteer, contact wastenotflorida.com.

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