Sharing Excess is an organization working to fight food insecurity and address the root causes of hunger in Philadelphia, PA. The new nonprofit serves the Philadelphia through its chapters on college campuses across the city. And Sharing Excess is especially devoted to helping college students improve their food security through meal swipes, food recovery, and new “food scholarships.”
This demographic, according to Sharing Excess’s founder and executive director Evan Ehlers, is severely underserved. Fifty percent of college students experience food insecurity, according to Sharing Excess and researchers at The Hope Center, a research center at Temple University dedicated to social policies in higher education.
“The general public is largely unaware that student food insecurity exists,” Ehlers tells Food Tank. Ehlers says that universities are ashamed and reluctant to research and acknowledge food insecurity amongst their students. The stigma around food insecurity also prevents students from self-reporting, says Ehlers.
One way Sharing Excess combats food insecurity on campuses is by tapping into an existing, unused resource: extra meal swipes. According to Ehlers, most students finish their semesters with meal swipes remaining on their university meal plans. These leftover meal swipes could be an easy way to provide meals to people in need.
To tap into unused meal swipes, Sharing Excess partners with Aramark, Drexel University’s foodservice provider. After initial concern over how to encourage philanthropy from for-profit businesses, Ehlers and Aramark found common ground through a plan that “starts with the heart,” “identifies shared values,” and understands “the biggest obstacles to saying yes,” such as financial viability.
In just the first hour of operation, students donated 240 meal swipes. Students have donated hundreds of additional meal swipes since the program launched in October 2019.
For Ehlers, it is important that Sharing Excess support students directly. To this end, Sharing Excess partners with Misfit Markets to set up free pop-up markets on college campuses. All of the food provided is surplus produce that the local company donates.
Sharing Excess also partnered with Misfit Markets to establish a first-of-its-kind food scholarship. The scholarship delivers free boxes of produce to recipients every other week for 6 months. The scholarship ensures students have access to healthy food for every meal while also alleviating the financial pressure of purchasing food. “Our desire is to support the next great minds with free produce… to make it easier for them to graduate and get to a point where they can share their talent and their work with the world by alleviating this one problem.”
In addition to its focus on college food insecurity, Sharing Excess’s campus chapters operate a city-wide food recovery program. The operation is run by student volunteers and paid drivers, most of whom are students and recent graduates. Sharing Excess “has partnered with over 40 grocery stores and restaurants in Philadelphia to deliver 65,089 kilograms (143,497 pounds) of food excess to a diverse network of more than 25 hunger-relief and prevention organizations,” Ehlers tells Food Tank.
Ehlers knows though, that Food Scholarships and food recovery programs alone are not enough to solve the underlying causes of food insecurity. That is why Sharing Excess only partners with organizations that worked to address the root causes of food insecurity, including Hub of Hope and Saint John’s Hospice. These organizations help clients access housing, health services, rehabilitation, and social services generally, for example. “We support this approach because ultimately, treatment without prevention is unsustainable,” says Ehlers.
Sharing Excess also strives to “mobilize companies to come together to solve a problem,” Ehlers tells Food Tank–activating corporate partners is vital to providing as many resources as possible to people in need. Sharing Excess hopes to “collectively create equitable solutions that really get at the root causes of problems plaguing college students and community members that don’t have enough food to eat,” says Ehlers.
Sharing Excess plans to activate chapters on every college campus in Philadelphia before eventually beginning chapters in a new city. Sharing Excess attributes its success to having “tapped into a shared value that people innately believe in,” Ehlers tells food tank, and by being an organization that “ultimately targets the root causes of hunger by supplying resources to organizations that prevent the cycle of poverty. Together, we enhance and amplify their impact.”
Photo courtesy of Sharing Excess