Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Food Recovery Network resumes activity on campus

FRN holds first volunteer sessions since before the pandemic
A pre-Covid FRN volunteer. Photo courtesy of Grace Cipollone.

The University of Massachusetts’ Food Recovery Network is a Registered Student Organization that donates leftover dining hall food to a local nonprofit, Craig’s Doors. The club uses this as a means of combating both food insecurity and food waste and is resuming its volunteer sessions this fall.

The group’s comeback is a significant step for UMass’s commitment to food security and sustainability. As of this fall, their slogan is “Feed the people, aid the planet.” Maggie Norton, a junior journalism and anthropology major and FRN’s social media manager explained, “The two main goals right there are to help students and others in our community in need of food and also to help eliminate waste from campus.”

Grace Cipollone, the group’s food safety coordinator and a UMass junior majoring in biology and Spanish, elaborated on the need for food security initiatives on campus. “About 25 percent of students at four-year colleges admit to skipping meals to conserve [financial] resources… We really just want to make things easier for students, because students should have to worry about their grades, not about eating,” she said. Pertaining to UMass specifically, “about a quarter of UMass students are actually Pell Grant recipients. And we’ve often seen that housing and food insecurity tend to go hand in hand.”

Director of Dining Services Garett DiStefano highlighted how FRNs helps eliminate campus-wide food waste. Because it is impossible for UMass Dining to forecast the exact amount of food that will be served, DiStefano said, “We do have some waste, but it’s a good thing that it can be utilized.”

On top of COVID-19 repercussions, a few factors had complicated FRN’s return to campus. Cipollone said that efforts to “reenergize the FRN” have been ongoing since the end of lockdown but have been delayed due to new Environmental Health and Safety regulations that require the group to have a ServSafe Manager.

A ServSafe Manager is someone who has completed ServSafe’s Food Manager Training and is therefore certified to oversee the RSO’s food safety practices. According to Cipollone, “The training usually requires a period of intense study followed by a proctored exam.” Further, FRN executives were required by Auxiliary Enterprises (AE) to attend an auxiliary sanction training before AE could proctor the exam for them. Unfortunately, the auxiliary sanction training “conflicted with all student schedules, as it was only on a Monday at noon.”

Cipollone continued, “Thankfully, as I am a co-manager at the Sylvan Snack Bar, which is a student-run business [that requires] at least one or two co-managers to be ServSafe certified… I am now the ServSafe Manager for [FRN].” She was able to take and pass the exam last spring by self-studying with a textbook and finding a proctor through the Center for Student Businesses.

Once confirming that Cipollone could be the organization’s ServSafe Manager, FRN had to figure out how they would have their volunteer base certified as ServSafe Food Handlers by completing ServSafe’s more basic food safety training—a step that DiStefano emphasized the importance of. He said, “we need to follow all of those basic principles of food safety, and we take that very seriously.”

According to Cipollone, “The purchase [of the training course] itself was relatively straightforward, but due to understaffing in the purchasing department, took over a month for approval when the expected wait time is two to three weeks.” The same purchasing delays also caused FRN to wait six weeks after submitting their request to obtain necessary food safety equipment, such as food thermometers, insulated bags and nitrile gloves.

After receiving their purchasing approval this month, the organization has been able to start volunteer training sessions; the first two trainings were held on Oct. 23 and 27, and a third will soon be announced.

Kathy Wicks, director of sustainability for UMass Dining and Auxiliary Enterprises, has been working with FRN since around 2018, and one of her current priorities is to ensure that FRN volunteers receive the basic food handler training. It has been a challenge to find a method that aligns with both student and dining staff schedules and does not impose a fee on individual student volunteers. “Figuring out some alternatives to make that more accessible is something that [UMass Dining and AE] are immediately working on,” Wicks said.

These training sessions are also a vital step towards FRN’s primary short-term goal—rebuilding the organization’s volunteer base. Pre-pandemic, FRN had over a hundred volunteers and held five sessions a week at both Berkshire and Worcester Dining Commons. They are now working to regain that level of involvement.

As FRN’s social media manager, Norton’s job focuses on attracting student volunteers. She has been working to boost FRN’s publicity by revitalizing the group’s Instagram account and trying to optimize engagement.

“The long-term goal is to get that [100-plus volunteer] base back,” Norton said. “I’m going to be realistic and say that we’re probably not going to get the amount of students that we want to volunteer on the first go. But hopefully by the end of semester we’ll have a large enough base where we can do multiple projects at once,” she added.

Wicks noted that she has also been trying to assist with FRN’s volunteer recruitment. The Permaculture Initiative, a part of UMass Dining’s Healthy and Sustainable Food System Initiative, promoted FRN’s first food handler training through an Instagram post, and UMass Dining’s website highlights FRN as a partner on the Food Security section of their website.

The FRN has received resounding student support so far this school year.

Cipollone and Norton have a list of over fifty RSOs that have contacted them in support of FRN’s efforts, as well as all of UMass’s student-run businesses, the Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union and some club sports teams.

Both emphasized how critical this community support is to FRN’s revival. Norton said that what FRN needs most from students right now is “just to spread the word about it. Be active, be vocal… We would love students to know what is going on here at UMass Amherst and what efforts are being put in place to help food insecurity.”

“It’s really important for the students to find their power and find their voice,” said Cipollone. “Volunteer if you want. Shoot us an email.”

Long-term, FRN aims to be able to redistribute recovered food on-campus and establish a large-scale campus food pantry, among other goals.


Annika Singh can be reached at [email protected].

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