BY MATT SALIS
Running out of food is not an option. Sometimes the presentation isn’t perfect when transporting food prior to plating, and not quite holding the perfect serving temperature while a speech runs long is a defensible variability. But for a professional caterer, running out of food before each event guest has been served is an inexcusable and career-shortening gaffe. So they don’t. Ever. In fact, caterers estimate the food a particular event will require based on anticipated attendance, then add a percentage – often 10% or more – to cover their masses.
Never having too little means always having too much. And in the Denver metro area, until a decade ago, having too much food at thousands of catered events meant only one thing: waste. Wasted effort. Wasted money. And most importantly, tons and tons of wasted food. In a city with a major and growing homeless problem, increasing cost of living resulting in more people at or below the poverty line and food insecurity affecting one in six children, wasted food is simply unacceptable. At least that’s how Arlan Preblud felt when he founded We Don’t Waste in 2009.
An Idea that Nourishes
As the most lovingly logical thing ever conceived in the back of a Volvo station wagon, Arlan’s baby was born out of logistical necessity. In his 40 years of practicing law and volunteering in his Denver community, Arlan was distressed to see the uneaten food from catered events tossed unceremoniously into dumpsters. So he talked to the caterers and learned they were as disgusted by the unavoidable waste as he was. Arlan started meeting his catering allies as they cleaned up after events and hauling the leftovers to the many organizations around town who serve the hungry. Both providers and recipients were eager for Arlan’s service, and his mission quickly outgrew his Volvo wagon.
The turning point that transformed Arlan’s dream from one man’s charitable hobby into a sustainable nonprofit came when he peaked the interest of the food service organization at Mile High Stadium. They gave Arlan a chance to reclaim unserved food in all the luxury suites after Broncos games. He would need containers and transportation and lots of help. Arlan found a church willing to provide volunteers, and proved to a major professional sports franchise that he could solve their problem of wasted food efficiently and without disruption to their operations. “Sunday night or Monday night games made for late nights and early mornings running around from suite to suite, but we got it done,” Arlan explained with deserved pride. “That’s when I knew we had something here.”
Arlan had something, indeed. His passion for helping his hungry neighbors grew into We Don’t Waste, 2019 winner of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Large Nonprofit Organization of the Year. Given the number of philanthropic groups serving our community, growing from one man driving his car around town to top billing in just ten years is quite an accomplishment. I know Arlan is proud of the award – not for the recognition it brings, but for the nourishment it represents.
Arlan was excited to show me around his new facility complete with walk-in refrigeration and a loading dock to facilitate quick turnarounds on his small fleet of trucks. They pick up food in the mornings and distribute it to our hungry neighbors in the afternoons Monday through Friday. Like any logistics business, they have an intricate system of computer programs, whiteboards, bright colored tags in the warehouse and calendars to keep the perishable deliciousness moving quickly to fill the need for food.
There is a sense of organized urgency that pulses through We Don’t Waste and all the employees and volunteers I encountered. If they don’t keep on their toes and keep hustling, their efforts will be for naught
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as freshness is the name of their game. The sense of pride around the organization is palpable – pride in moving perishable food with an unprecedented efficiency, and pride that each day they save lives and fill neighbors with hope. If their prestigious award from the chamber helps raise awareness and results in donations so they can expand their mission, that is wonderful. But the award itself is far less meaningful than the lives touched that it represents.
Endless Need, Endless Possibilities
I asked Arlan if he worries about running out of food to meet the growing demand. “That will never happen,” he assured me. “There is plenty of food to feed the hungry. Ours is a challenge of logistics.” And it is a challenge Arlan and his very capable team are poised to meet.
We Don’t Waste has caught the attention of more than the local chamber. Arlan fields inquiries from philanthropists and municipalities across the nation about bringing the We Don’t Waste model to their communities. While he is enthusiastic to help and sees a bright future for his concept, he cautions the eager to not underestimate the complexity of the logistical challenge of moving prepared and perishable food with efficiency. Neither excess food nor people with food insecurity are anything new. There is a reason no one has figured out how to bridge that gap before – it isn’t easy. We Don’t Waste is leading a revolution.
And we can feel ripples of the revolution right here in our Wash Park neighborhood where We Don’t Waste is in partnership with the Denver South High School foodbank. To learn more about We Don’t Waste, or to make a tax deductible donation to this 501c3 organization, visit wedontwaste.org.
From an idea sparked by frustration from wasted food, to top honors as an organization feeding a need, We Don’t Waste is making a delicious and nourishing difference in Denver.