A Denver boy is riding the bus to school. The buzz centers on music, girls and sports — but he’s too worried that he will go to bed hungry for the third night in a row to care.
Forty percent of Americans are food insecure, meaning they were unable to obtain nourishing meals on a regular basis in the last month.
Hunger is an equal opportunity affliction devastating people of all ages and faiths.
Nearly one out of 11 Coloradans are food insecure, an alarming figure that breaks down into one in six children and extends to middle school, high school and college students.
“It’s ubiquitous,” says Arlan Preblud, founder of We Don’t Waste, one of the most successful yet under-the-radar efforts to combat hunger in metropolitan Denver.
We Don’t Waste, which began in the back of Preblud’s Volvo station wagon in 2009, has distributed over 100 million servings of food since its modest inception.
Now coordinating food distribution for 190 community-based agencies, including JFS and Kavod Senior Life, it has never charged donors or recipients.
Preblud, 77, is the soft-spoken, impassioned executive director of We Don’t Waste, which has grown to eight employees, 250 annual volunteers and three refrigerated trucks.
The nonprofit recently moved from a small office into an 11,500 sq. ft. distribution center that comes with 1,000 sq. ft. of cooler space.
When some people think of donated edibles, they mistakenly imagine rolls scavenged off dinner plates or tidbits dumped inside the bowels of dumpsters.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We Don’t Waste receives healthy and tasty provisions from all major Denver sports venues, the Colorado Convention Center, and Sysco and Mile High Foods, to name a few.
All food is panned, wrapped, labeled, refrigerated and deemed healthy and safe.
Large donations are directed to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, while smaller ones are delivered to 60 recipient agencies.
No one has ever questioned the quality of food or reported a negative incident in the history of We Don’t Waste.
“All the food we put out is computerized,” Preblud says. “Our donors get a monthly accounting of how much food they provided, as well as how much food they saved from ending up in a landfill.”
Forty percent of unused, quality food in the US is thrown into landfills.
“The amount of food we waste in this country is a shanda,” he says.
In 2008, as the country reeled from a potent recession, Preblud reexamined his professional options. An attorney for 35 years, he decided to pursue another path.
“I had previously volunteered with a nonprofit and also knew several people in the food business, so I started talking to restaurant owners.
“I would ask them, ‘Are you willing to donate food?’ And they said yes.”
Then Preblud approached community-based agencies whose missions incorporated food banks, soup kitchens or recovery facilities.
“I asked whether they would accept this food, and they overwhelming said yes.”
Even as the pieces coalesced in place, Preblud had absolutely no idea that his ethically-rooted idea would mushroom into such a hugely sustainable reality.
Preblud, who does not solicit provisions from synagogues, temples or churches, relies on caterers to contact him after events about leftovers suitable for donation.
“There’s a misconception,” he says. “Many of the agencies we serve are food banks, pantries or soup kitchens that provide food to individuals from many denominations: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, you name it. We don’t discriminate against anyone.”
We Don’t Waste does not track user demographics because it distributes food through the participatory agencies, Preblud says. “But we do have anecdotal information.”
He says that a sizeable number of the thousands of people who are food insecure belong to the Jewish faith.
“It’s embarrassing for people to reach out to food banks or pantries to subsist. They don’t necessarily identify themselves as food insecure because of the stigma attached to food bank reliance.”
Preblud, who attended East High and received his undergraduate degree and JD at DU, says his lifelong admiration for tzedakah dates back to his grandparents.
“They were always considerate of folks who had less,” he says. “It was ingrained in my upbringing to think of and remember these people.”
When Rabbi Manual Laderman came to Denver after graduating seminary, he stayed with Preblud’s grandparents until he could find a place of his own.
“I remember that they always invited people to our Passover seders who weren’t part of the family,” he says. “Soldiers from Lowry AFB came to the house all the time.”
While he may not realize it, Preblud’s commitment to lift up his community transcends placing hot meat, steaming vegetables, mangos and oranges on empty plates.
He gives hope to starving hearts in an urban wilderness.
The Great Depression ended 80 years ago. The US is among the wealthiest countries in the world — yet 40 million Americans are food insecure.
What’s wrong with this societal portrait, and how do we fix it?
“People don’t realize that Denver has over 50 food deserts, where there is no grocery store or supermarket within a quarter to half a mile of where people live,” Preblud says.
These “deserts” are primarily located in impoverished areas such as Globeville, Montbello, Westwood, Sun Valley and other areas.
Transportation is crucial when it comes to grocery shopping — but people living in poverty usually don’t own cars.
Carrying five shopping bags on a lengthy bus route with two or three transfers is equally untenable.
“That’s why We Don’t Waste is starting a mobile food market initiative in the coming months to serve these areas,” he says.
“There are thousands of people who are not on the streets who lack proper sustenance each and every day,” he says.
“They depend upon food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens to survive.”
Preblud stresses that food insecurity is the threshold of poverty — a downward spiral eclipsing present and future aspirations.
“If you are unable to feed yourself, you lack the ability to go out and find employment,” he says. “You don’t have the energy.”
The practical solution to hunger rests in education, awareness and the willingness to act.
“One of the hardest things we do is try and build awareness of our mission at We Don’t Waste,” Preblud says.
“We always struggle to get the word out, but not to blow our own whistle. It’s about raising awareness of food security in America.”
Preblud says that We Don’t Waste is “really a very simple operation — but it has a tremendous impact.”
Andrea Jacobs may be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News