Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

Food Waste — it is a problem in America.

The United States produces an abundance of food each year, but approximately 40% of it never makes it to people’s plates. Each year, 62.5 million tons of food winds up in landfills, costing the U.S. about $218 billion each year to grow, process, transport and dispose of food that is never eaten. This waste carries with it enormous economic, environmental and social costs, but also represents great opportunity. It is estimated that recovering just 30% of the food that goes to waste in the U.S. could feed all the food insecure Americans their total diet. – Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic Report 

Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here! However, at the House of Refuge Sunnyslope (HRS) kitchen, over 3.5 tons of food a week is salvaged and passed on to ministries that provide food for the less fortunate in the Phoenix area.

In 2016, 180 tons of food were processed through the HRS kitchen!

Our kitchen and food bank are a Partner Agency with St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance

In order to gain and maintain partnership with SMFBA, a Partner Agency must meet minimum requirements as set out by Feeding America, IRS, and St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance leadership. By federal law, a 501(c)(3) or other tax exempt organization, must be fiscally, programmatically and legally responsible for the handling and distribution of donated food received by SMFBA.

Some more facts about local food waste…

Food waste is the largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills nationwide. Food waste in landfills produces at least 113 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. Additionally, in 2010, the EPA reported that the cost of disposing of food waste in landfills was approximately $1.3 billion. Even as food waste prevention efforts and recovery initiatives are scaled up, there will always remain some portion of food that needs to be discarded. It is important to support methods of food disposal that are sustainable and economically beneficial, while also limiting the use of landfill space. Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic Report 

How the HRS Food Pantry got started:

Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

Dry goods storage for ministry use.

In 2005, then executive director, Paul Williams, was already getting donations from supermarkets as a way to provide meals for the residents. (As part of our transitional housing program, the men are provided room and board. They need to be working within 30 days of entering the program. Providing meals for them help them save money to become self-sufficient down the line.)

Then, the director of a home for Native Americans of the Tohono O’odham Nation called. She had sick kids and nothing to give them. The HRS Food Pantry had just received 9 gallons of orange juice. Paul struggled with how many to give them. He prayed and sent them 6 gallons. They were so grateful. Shortly after, he got a call that someone had 12 gallons of orange juice to donate!

It’s God’s Food and we’re all God’s People. ~Paul Williams, former executive director

A gift from God.

Not only are we able to feed the residents, but we also help solve the food waste problem while passing it on to other ministries.

“He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Acts 14:17

Here are some amazing statistics on how God is working through HRS helping with the Food Waste problem:

Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

Volunteer, Jim Kennedy unloading.

Each week volunteers, using our vans, pick up from 11 grocery stores and 7 restaurants and cafes. We get fresh vegetables, meats, canned and packaged goods from the supermarkets and cooked food from the restaurants. The food is first sorted by category: produce, deli, bakery, meats, etc. Then it’s weighed, logged-in and sorted. The providers are in about a 15-mile radius and include:

  • Fry’s
  • Safeway
  • Trader Joe’s
  • A. J.’s
    Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

    Food boxes for House of Promise and House of Hope women.

  • CVS Pharmacy
  • Chipotle
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Chick-fil-a
  • 3 Starbucks

Besides food for HRS resident meals, we provide food for 10 ministries who have their own food banks.

We also provide food boxes for our House of Promise and House of Hope ladies and kids as well as some program graduates.

Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

Kitchen manager, Tammy in the refrigerator

The kitchen and food pantry are expertly run by kitchen manager, Tammy Zabek.

“I love this job because of the volunteers — the different personalities and their dedication to us. Today one of ladies couldn’t make it and she sent her aunt in her place.” ~Tammy

Mark Kosden, a member of Pure Heart Church, not only serves in the kitchen sorting, but also, along with his wife Julie, cooks for the men once a month. He’s been a stalwart helper for 9 years.

Tammy manages 72 volunteers for the pantry, drivers, sorting., and cooks. We’re always looking for more!

Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

Kitchen volunteer Bonnie Trune helping sort food.

One of our kitchen volunteers, Bonnie Trune, when asked, “Why do you volunteer here?” replied:

“Because I love the Lord and I am serving Him. I could have done mentoring, but here’s where they needed help.” She also added, “More hands make the work lighter!” ~Bonnie

Gary Sharp and his family have been cooking for the men once a week for 8 years.

Behind the Scenes: No Food Waste Here!

Volunteer cook, Gary Sharp and family serving dinner for the HRS guys.

“Our Grandson Taylor has helped us since pre-kindergarten to now, 4th grade. He’s been with us for 6 years now and brings some of his buddies to help him.” ~Gary

Every night volunteer cooks take the donated food and make delicious meals for the men at HRS and the women at House of Promise. Our cooks then serve the meal and dine with our residents. If it’s Bible study night, they can stay for that, too.


If you’re interested in volunteering, we certainly can use you! 

volunteers cooking for our residents

Gary Sharp and family cooking for our residents.

Cooking Dinner for our Residents – Once a week, once a month, whatever time frame suits you. You can do it solo, or as part of a group/team from your church or school. At HRS you’re cooking for up to 36 residents plus your team. You’re expected to dine with the guys and may stay for Bible study afterwards. Over at Promise, you’d be cooking for 5-12 ladies and again, you stay to dine with the gals.

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2: 46-47

Kitchen/Food Pantry – Spend a morning (or 2) helping to sort and organize incoming donations. Restock our men’s day room, wrap individual pastries, and help create food boxes for families. Kitchen volunteers work about a 4-hour shift.

Baked goods arrive at our kitchen

Baked goods arrive at our kitchen

Drivers – Take one of our two vans, to go to grocery stores and pick up food donations. You will work a scheduled route and when you return to the ministry you will help unload the van, weigh the food, and quickly put it safely away in the fridge or freezer. Additional duties include sanitizing ice chests, re-stacking boxes, and taking out trash. Each shift lasts approximately two hours. Must have valid drivers license to drive and ability to lift food boxes. Drivers work between 2-3 hour shifts.


Check out some pictures:


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Here’s a video from St. Mary’s Food Bank, who happen to be celebrating 50 years of feeding the hungry reducing food waste.

Top picture: Kitchen Manager Tammy with volunteer, Carmen.

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