Food waste is a big problem. So is hunger. It’s estimated that Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food—or 35 million tons—every year. For an average family, that could mean wasting about $2,000 every year on uneaten food. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that around one in 10 Minnesota households struggle with food insecurity. While these issues can feel insurmountable, efforts to manage waste and provide food to those in need can make a real difference in local communities. Recently, Cascade Vacation Rentals began a program called Project: Food, an initiative designed to help reduce waste and provide food for local food shelves.
Cascade Vacation Rentals, located in Lutsen, hosts thousands of visitors to the North Shore every year. When guests check out of a vacation rental, they sometimes leave behind unused boxes and cans of food. Over the course of peak visitor season, this can amount to large amounts of food being left at vacation rental properties. The goal of Project: Food is to keep these food items out of landfills and to put them into the pantries of those who need it.
Andrew Beavers of Cascade Vacation Rentals describes how Project: Food came from the desire to give back.
“One of our colleagues was at a conference for vacation rental companies a few years back,” said Beavers. “They were sharing ideas on different ways vacation rental communities can help out the local area. We have so many homes in this area, and we wanted to get food to folks in need.”
Since so many of the items guests leave are still perfectly fit for consumption, it made sense to find a way to give these items to those in need. With Project: Food, instead of throwing unwanted food away, guests at Cascade Vacation Rentals can decide whether they want to bring their food items home or whether they want to donate them to a local food shelf via the program.
“The program is a really simple process,” said Beavers. “The way it works is our housekeepers put a branded grocery sack in the homes when they clean, and if guests have food items they don’t want to bring home, they can put them in the bag.”
Project: Food accepts non-perishable, unopened food items for donation. Examples would be boxes of pasta, canned foods, foods in unopened jars, or anything that would be typically given to a food shelf. When the housekeepers clean after a stay, they’ll pick up the bags with the food and bring them to the office. From there, the staff distributes them to either the food shelf in Grand Marais or the food shelf at Birch Grove in Tofte, where it will be given to families in need.
Beavers said that while the program just started in June of last year, the donations continued to grow into the busy season of late summer and early fall.
“It was a great success, and it was exciting to see how many people were eager to participate. Our homeowners are great and love the program, too. While they’re renting they can still be giving back to the local community,” said Beavers.