Tag Archives: Chartwells

Unsung Heroes #137

Food Rescue US is one of those no-brainer, easy-to-do, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas that dramatically impacts thousands of lives.

Begun in 2011 in Norwalk, and now operating in 13 states, it addresses an enormous problem: More than 50 million Americans are hungry. Yet we waste more than 40 billion meals each year.

The solution is staggeringly simple. Volunteer drivers bring fresh food that would have been thrown away by restaurants, grocers and other food industry sources in place like Westport, to shelters, kitchens and pantries in cities like Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford.

An app enables restaurants and retailers with extra food to request a pick up. Volunteers in the area are immediately pinged.

Almost 1,000 food rescuers in Fairfield County pick up food from 85 donors, and deliver to 80 social service agencies.

Westport ardently supports Food Rescue US. We have dozens of drivers. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods participate.

Now the Westport Public Schools are involved too.

Elementary teachers Stacey Fowle (Greens Farms) and Ashley Moran (Saugatuck), along with Ben Lahey, assistant director of dining for district food service provider Chartwells, worked with the Staples High, Bedford Middle and Greens Farms and Saugatuck Elementary school cafeterias. All now save unused food.

Beh Lahey of Chartwells and Amber Egervari of Staples High School help load a Food Rescue US volunteer’s car.

Every Thursday, volunteers pick up the food, and bring it to the Gillespie Center downtown. They — and Stacey, Ashley, Ben and everyone else involved in this project — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Food Rescue US does great work. But the need is also great.

For more information — including how to volunteer — click here.

ONE MORE COURSE: Joining this week’s Unsung Heroes is Ellen Bowen.

The longtime Westporter has a condo in Miami. A year and a half ago — recognizing the enormous number of large venues like hotels and stadiums in the area — she helped start Food Rescue US there.

South Florida embraced the concept in a big way. They’ve already rescued over 300,000 pounds of food, from places like the Fontainebleau Hotel and after events like the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

And — oh yeah — Super Bowl LIV.

Immediately following this winter’s big game, Food Rescue US picked up 35,000 pounds of food from hotels, restaurants, markets — even the Super Bowl Experience.

Well done, Ellen!

Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

The campaign to lessen plastic straw use in Westport no longer sucks.

The Whelk, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Amis, Viva Zapata, Dunville’s and the Black Duck have all joined in. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the process of phasing them out.

Now comes news that a place that serves many more customers a day than all of these combined — well, maybe not Dunkin’ — has joined the crusade.

RTM member Andrew Colabella tells “06880” that he heard from Deborah VanCoughnett, director of dining services for Chartwells, the company that runs food services for the Westport schools.

Andrew says they’ll severely limit plastic straw use when school starts later this month.

None will be on display. However, students who need one — for example, those with physical disabilities — can simply ask a cashier.

Andrew thanks fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, school superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer, Bedford Middle School principal Dr. Adam Rosen and student Michael Rossi Pontoriero, and VanCoughnett for their work on this project.

It’s an important step forward. But bigger issues lie ahead.

Like plastic bottles.

Yesterday, I got an email from Samantha Henske.

Last year — as a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — she started a drive to eliminate single-use water bottles. She and her Workshop grouop sold reusable BPA-free water bottles to 400 KHS students. With the money raised, they bought a water filling station for the school.

Samantha Henske, and plastic bottles.

As she worked on the project, Sammi learned not only about environmental effects of plastic bottles (one year of manufacturing uses enough oil to fuel a million cars; a bottle in a landfill takes up to 450 years to decompose; plastics that get into fish and other sea creatures can end up as microplastics in our bodies), but that chemicals in BPA can lead to neurological difficulties and increased growth of cancer cells.

Now — as she enters Coleytown Middle School — she’s moving forward, townwide. Next month, she meets with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Green Task Force.

This is a sibling effort. She’s doing the research; her sophomore brother Spencer is working on design and technology.

The result is a Change.org petition. The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in all of Westport. To sign — or learn more — click here.

Gimme Shelter

Long Lots Elementary School serves as Westport’s emergency shelter. With dire predictions of Hurricane Sandy bearing down last Sunday, staff and volunteers were ready to prepare for a surge of evacuees.

But first, there was a Halloween party for kids.

Custodians assured emergency workers that they could set up after the party. They wanted the children to have fun.

The kids did. And indeed, the shelter was ready in time.

Long Lots School

That’s just one of the feel-good stories told by Ned Batlin. A Westport police officer — and much-loved DARE official — he spent several days at Long Lots last week, overseeing security and pitching in as much as everyone else there.

“Human Services, Red Cross, CERT volunteers, the custodial staff — they were phenomenal,” Ned says. “They worked around the clock, day after day.”

He cites too Long Lots’ custodial staff: Pat Hayden (head), Peter Barcello and Patrick Rodgers.

Chartwells — Westport Public Schools’ food service provider — was “fantastic,” Ned says.

Executive chef Ritch Imperiati never left. “He slept in his car every night. He made sure there were 3 hot meals a day, from Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon. And there was chips, juice and water, 24/7,” says Ned.

“It was a great group effort. One of the food servers — who also never left — played with kids in the gym in between her shifts.”

The first night, nearly 90 Westporters slept at Long Lots. As the storm raged, all the cots were in the hallways. Officials feared the gym’s windows might not withstand such high winds.

On Tuesday night, 50 people slept in the gym.

Others stopped in just for meals or coffee. One man came to charge his ankle monitor. (His probation officer told him to.)

Social workers from Human Services were always on duty. Department members Barbara Butler, Patty Haberstroh, Elaine Daignault and Kevin Godburn made sure things ran smoothly. There was also a nurse at all times.

“So many people came together to make people’s lives a little easier,” Ned marvels. “It was fantastic to see.”