Refood Volunteering

Off Course Travels is proud to help fight hunger in Portugal by volunteering weekly at Refood.

For those that may now know, hunger in Portugal is widespread, mostly far from obvious, sometimes cloaked in shame.

Among those taking concerted action against hunger is an American with a dynamic project he is developing throughout Lisbon and spreading to urban areas in other regions of the country.

Hunter Halder, 62, originally from a village near Richmond, Virginia in the USA is the brains behind the so-called Re-Food program designed to help end both hunger and food waste.

Launched in Lisbon 2011, it now involves 7000 volunteers collecting and repackaging food from more than 1600 outlets and distributing it daily to about thousands of families.

The scheme is intended to complement the work of the Portuguese federation of food banks and private charities running soup kitchens. They have been working together in Lisbon, helping each other where they can, even though Re-Food operates in a somewhat different way.

“What Re-Food brings to the table,” Halder explained, “is an abundance of excellent, ready-to-eat food every day at no, or almost no, cost.

“This is a very big deal because reducing food insufficiency is only possible if massive amounts of food at practically no cost can be obtained daily.

“We target every single scrap of excess prepared food within our neighborhoods by going to every café, restaurant and grocery store every day they are open.

“We raise a team of hundreds of local volunteers – walking, riding bikes and using cars when necessary – to harvest 100% of the previously wasted food, every day, rain or shine.

“We deliver that food to people who are not being served by existing institutions, be they homeless, jobless or in any other condition that leaves them without the means to secure the food they need.

“We go door to door to find and serve those who are ashamed of their need and who, therefore, are practically invisible.”

The project is totally non-profit-making and no one connected with it is paid anything.

“We want everyone who ever serves or donates to this project to know that 100% of their effort, goodwill or resources will be applied exclusively to expand the benefits of our work,” says Halder.

“It is, of course, impossible to end all food waste,” he conceded, giving as an example the top of the onion you cut off and throw away when making a salad.

“But it is possible to end the trashing of enormous amounts of perfectly good food. The Re-Food model can achieve this because of the power of community mobilization and the fact that we work at the local community level.

“With respect to ending hunger in Lisbon or anywhere else, a dose of humility and reality is in order. We have always had hunger with us and it will not go quietly away. That said, it is also true that the public and private institutions, as well as businesses and citizens, have worked, and are working, to alleviate hunger. All of these efforts are needed.

“Our strategic trajectory has always been to complete our work on the micro local level, replicate throughout the city of Lisbon and then throughout all cities.

“But reality does not follow strategic models. We began replicating throughout Lisbon and beyond long before completing the full implementation in the original parish.

“Similarly, we began replicating in other cities long before Lisbon has been fully implanted. We expect to be replicating internationally long before completing our national work.

“We have to try to build the capacity to respond to all who want to replicate. The project is universal and we intend to make it universally available,” said Halder.

So far, the project has encountered remarkably few difficulties. The biggest was taking the initial decision in March 2011. Since then it has been easy-going, except for the work involved, of course.

“The food is there for the taking. The volunteers are hungry to help. The community has all of the resources needed. But the true driver is that people want to bring these benefits to their own neighborhoods.”

Refood Information: Len Port

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