Free is free. But Hungry is hungry

By Mike Frankel

I was in line at the supermarket and two women in front of me were talking about their lack of freezer space.  Like many supermarkets, if you spend X dollars by a certain date before Thanksgiving and before Xmas you get a free a turkey, ham or lasagna.

One of the women demanded, “Why can’t they just give us cash? I still have the free turkey from Thanksgiving, and we go to my daughters now for the holidays. So what am I going to do with another 13-lb. bird?”

“Well, you could take the ham,” her buddy suggested.  “But I understand. And at our age who needs the salt. Besides, my freezer is just as jammed.  But free is free!!”

There isn’t a lot of privacy in the checkout line. And as I looked ahead, I saw the banner across the inside store window: “A Proud Partner – Philabundance,” my area’s largest hunger-relief
organization serving nearly 90,000 meals a week. “Ladies, excuse me. What about donating those free freezer fillers to Philabundance?”

I explained that while their kitchens were well-stocked, one-in-six people in Philadelphia and one-in-seven across the country don’t know where their next meal is coming from and are “food insecure.”  At the same time, the average American family wastes nearly 400 lbs. of food a year.  And as a country we waste a staggering 38+ million tons of food each year. And when you throw food into a landfill it rots quickly and produces toxic gases that are
bad for the environment and contribute to climate change.

By this point, the cashier had stopped ringing and was joining the conversation. “Yes — the store gives a lot of food each week to Philabundance, and some other local food cupboards. If you’d like,  I can ask the manager to send your free birds along with this week’s shipment.”

They looked a little skeptical. I chimed back in. “You could also ask your clergy if they know of families or charities in need of food this holiday season and every day.” This seemed like a good idea and my new acquaintances asked how I knew so much about hunger and food donation.

“Well, I work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and part of my job is to help spread the word about food donation and food recovery – not usually in checkout lines – but if it works…In fact I have met the owners of this store through my job and they – like thousands of other stores, colleges, stadiums and people – are doing their part to protect the environment, save money and stamp out hunger. Now you can help too.”

About the author: Mike Frankel just celebrated his 20-year anniversary at EPA. He works as a Communications Coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office and works on a variety of programs including the Food Recovery Challenge (

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