Saving Food, Saving Lives
Next Door jumpstarts Chicago non-profit
Imagine having no food: Not on the dinner table, or in the pantry, or even in the fridge. This isn’t the scene of a third-world country, but of our very own America. Poverty and hunger are often a joint package.
One of the most common effects of poverty is its negative impact on health and nutrition. Food deserts are parts of the country where people are living without cars or supermarkets within a mile of their home.
These deserts are usually in poor communities. The result: People have few affordable options to feed themselves, often left to shop at mini-marts, only carrying processed foods.
Among all of this is VittleWise, a Chicago non-profit organization that’s rescuing food, delivering it to families in need, and providing nutrition education.
A Welcome Detour
It all started just outside of Detroit. It was here that Ed Beebe grew up loving food. Long story short: he went to culinary school, became a chef, and then his career met a roadblock.
“The recession after 9/11, I remember vividly any restaurant that I worked at, there would be more people knocking at our backdoor than coming in the restaurant,” shared Ed. “Those two things hit me hard.”
Eventually Ed decided to pursue a Masters in Marketing and worked for the American Medical Association for five years. It was here he learned more about nutrition, and the impact of unhealthy food on the body. For a guy who always knew he wanted to do something with food, an idea sparked.
“It all came back to one thing, food education. For a lot of people, their diets still weren’t changing just because they had access to healthier food,” said Ed. “That’s how VittleWise started, finding that fulfillment in doing culinary work and volunteer work.”
First was the Microwave Meals Cookbook. The reality is that many people living in shelters or low-income
housing may only have a microwave to cook. Microwavable foods are often unhealthy, so the goal was to make meals more nutritionally-balanced.
The cookbooks were such a success that Chicago organizations began asking Ed to teach cooking classes.
“With [the classes] we really got to understand more of what people are actually dealing with,” said Ed. “The common question would be: You’re teaching us how to make food but not actually providing it?”
In Chicago, it’s estimated that 55 million pounds of food are wasted annually. Through a growing network of donors and food businesses, VittleWise is taking a stab at reducing food waste throughout the city.
Today, VittleWise delivers rescued food to families throughout Chicago. At this point, the recipients are about a halfway split between single-mothers and elderly people.
These families are not only receiving food, but improving their health. For one family in Hyde Park, the healthy food donations allowed each family member to get rid of their diabetic symptoms.
“They took me in as a long lost family member or friend. There’s people that really don’t have a whole lot,” said Ed. “Just dropping the food off, and seeing how happy they are.”
An Open Door
In 2015, Ed came to the State Farm Next Door® facility in Lincoln Park.
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t jumping into something unmanageable with this new idea of a delivery program,” said Ed.
VittleWise was selected over more than 55 applicants to become the Project in Residence, a six-month residency program that provides the space and knowledge to help project owners launch their business.
“The biggest impact Next Door had was being able to have more of a business mindset. I had the passion and the drive, but not the business mindset,” said Ed. “They knew how to bring that in.”
VittleWise completed their residency at Next Door, and continues to make progress day by day. The non-profit has recently moved to a larger space to accommodate the growing food donations, and two new cookbooks will be coming out soon.
Stay tuned and stay healthy!
Click for more information on food deserts.