Soldiers participating in Exercise Mobility Guardian load donations onto a truck for the Emergency Food Network near Hangar 7 at McChord Field Aug. 2. Photo credit: James Lee JBLM Public Works
by Pamela Kulokas
In compliance with the Army’s Food Donation Policy, more than 40,000 pounds of food residuals worth nearly $68,000 was donated this summer by units from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to the Emergency Food Network — a charitable nonprofit food bank that gives to 68 food pantries, hot meal sites and shelters located primarily in Tacoma and Pierce County.
In accordance with the Army regulations, EFN applied for and was certified eligible this year by the Department of Defense to provide logistical support for collecting JBLM’s donated food. Command Sergeant Major Richard Mulryan, JBLM garrison command sergeant major, described the effort as an honest, viable benefit the installation provides the community.
“There’s a benefit to the community, (and) then there’s a benefit to the military,” he said. “The money we would have paid to send all that food out in waste trucks, we can now re-target to other training opportunities, to other resources that we may need; it’s a reallocation of assets.”
After the two-week Bayonet Focus 2017 exercise at Yakima Training Center in June led by the 7th Infantry Division, more than 33,000 pounds of food was donated. According to Paul Stabbert, EFN’s director of operations, the donations made quite an impact in the Yakima Valley area.
“It was amazing to see the variety of food given,” he said.
Stabbert estimated about 5,000 people were fed from the excess food worth about $57,000. The Army also saved the more than $100 per ton charge it pays for solid waste disposal at Yakima — $1,700 saved.
According to the Army’s Food Donation Procedures memo from 2014, wherever feasible, the Army is committed to food donation programs which route excess food to recovery and distribution. At JBLM, there is a standard operating procedure for estimating how much food to order and prepare. Even though no extra food is purchased, sometimes food is left unused that would otherwise be disposed of.
JBLM currently collects and composts about 1,000 tons of food per year, according to James Lee, solid waste program manager and qualified recycling program manager with JBLM’s Directorate of Public Works. His office estimates that at least 25 percent, or 250 tons, of the yearly amount is suitable for donation.
Food purchased by the Army cannot be sold. Donating food to EFN is cost-effective solid waste diversion, Lee said.
“If we don’t get (excess food) to EFN, it goes to the compost pile or the dumpster,” he said. “We’re maxed out; we’re only permitted to off-handle so many tons per year, and we’re right at that. If I get another significant amount of food, we’re going to have to divert it to the landfill.”
The value of residual food is redeemed by not having to dispose of it and placing it in the hands of the needy, Lee said.
JBLM’s food donation program is saving the Army money, preserving the value of taxpayer dollars and reducing the amount of food waste on JBLM and YTC, but it’s also addressing food insecurity — a widespread problem in the South Puget Sound area, according to EFN.
In 2016, 1.3 million visits were made to food programs in Pierce County. EFN estimates that one out of every seven people in Washington struggles with hunger. Nearly 15 million pounds of food was donated by EFN in 2016 to the food programs it serves.
“We know for sure that of the tens of thousands of people that show up at the pantries the kitchens out there, a fair amount of those are young military service members,” Lee said. “I was a E-4 in the Army, and I have shown up at the food bank — I’ve been that guy standing in line a long time ago.”
According to Lee, the visual of young military families standing in line while JBLM composts and landfills thousands of tons of perfect edible food was intolerable to JBLM officials, and the partnership with EFN took shape.
Most recently, more than 7,000 pounds of field residual food generated during Exercise Mobility Guardian July 31 to Aug. 12, valued at more than $12,000, was transported to the EFN.
“If the food would have been disposed of as municipal solid waste, it would have filled at least six to eight garbage dumpsters,” Lee said.