OPAC members volunteer at Cultivate Food Rescue


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Members of the Brand Content, Internal Communications and Media Relations teams in OPAC volunteered recently at Cultivate Food Rescue.

Members of the Office of Public Affairs and Communications (OPAC) recently spent part of their morning volunteering at Cultivate Food Rescue, packing meals for area school children. Twenty-one OPAC members packed 1,125 meals in two hours. Cultivate has been around since 2017, occupying a building at 1403 Prairie Ave. in South Bend since January 2020. The food is donated from Notre Dame and other area businesses.

The Cultivate/ND relationship began when Cultivate started rescuing unused food from ND home football games. The meals are repackaged and provided to schoolchildren. Cultivate services 55 schools in 12 school corporations in St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall counties. The food provides meals to 1,350 children on reduced or free lunch, who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

“Between Friday lunch at the school and Monday morning breakfast, there’s 68 hours. That’s a long time to go without a meal. It’s hard to do well in school if you’re hungry all the time,” said Todd Zeltwanger, director of fund development at Cultivate. “We believe that our mission here is twofold: reduce the food waste and help feed food-insecure kids.”

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Todd Zeltwanger, director of fund development at Cultivate Food Rescue

In addition to feeding schoolchildren, Cultivate also supplies food to 150 pantries in the same counties as the schools it services. Seventy-five percent of the food rescued goes to pantries and 25 percent goes to meals for children. Cultivate reached a major landmark in October 2023, having rescued 5 million pounds of food.

Their success has led to building a 22,000-square-foot cold storage facility on the same property as their current building. Two-thirds of the building will be used as a freezer and the remaining space will be used as a refrigerator. “It will eventually enable us to rescue nearly 20 million pounds of food every single year, once it’s in full operation,” Zeltwanger said.

Cultivate continues to thrive on donations from individuals, companies, foundations, churches and service clubs. With food pantries 40 percent busier than last year, the need continues to be great. Volunteers can pack food, as the OPAC team did, or make donations to cultivatefoodrescue.com.

Zeltwanger has found some unexpected benefits to Cultivate’s food packaging program. A teacher shared a story of a student eating a “long skinny green thing” in the meal — which the student described as looking like a Christmas tree. “Well, it was asparagus, and he had never had it before,” Zeltwanger said. “An 8- or 9-year-old youngster — by exposing them to other foods — we were able to expand their palates a bit and give them opportunities that they may not have otherwise.”

If your office team or family would like to volunteer with Cultivate, visit them online and sign up through this link.