How Detroit Nonprofit Make Food Not Waste Works Toward Sustainability

A church kitchen in Detroit is making a difference for local residents, greater Detroit, and the planet.
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Chef Alexis Chingman- Tijerina chops leeks. Every dish is made from scratch using donated ingredients. // Photograph by Chuk Nowak

Pull into the parking lot behind the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Indian Village on any given Friday morning, and you’ll find the staff of Make Food Not Waste hard at work cooking, preparing, and packing dishes for locals to pick up in the parking lot.

MFNW is a nonprofit that specializes in collecting food that would have gone to waste from restaurants and grocery stores around metro Detroit and repurposing it into meals for anyone who needs help keeping their fridge stocked.

This combination of staff and volunteers is capable of producing between 1,000 and 4,000 meals per week, according to MFNW founder Danielle Todd. Every single dish they provide is made from scratch via donated ingredients.

“We have food that goes out in different forms. … We try to stock the community fridges in the area as well, because we are seeing that those are almost always empty,” Culinary Director Shanel DeWalt says.

When Hour Detroit visited on a Friday in April, she said that week they had prepared 350 servings of food for The Salvation Army and 800 servings for those picking up at the church, and that’s “not even including the salads and the frittatas and the stews.”

In the surprisingly cavernous basement of the church, staff members were busy turning aging eggs into huge quiches and almost-overripe bananas into fresh banana bread. That food was then packaged and distributed, like it is every week, rain or shine, across the east side and beyond.

Todd says that some of the deliveries “happen regularly. So certain days we will pick up from certain grocery stores and farmers markets.” But that’s not always the case.

On that particular day, DeWalt said MFNW had gotten “a call from another food pantry that did their distribution, and they had a lot of romaine lettuce left over that won’t hold until their next distribution.”

Hence, romaine was now part of the MFNW menu. The seasonal and somewhat random nature of what the organization gets sourced to it dictates an ever-changing menu where MFNW staff try to use their resources in the most efficient and culturally relevant way possible.

The eaters who came to collect food that day were mostly on the older side, but Todd says they serve people of all ages.

Customers can range from individual neighborhood residents to entire partnering organizations like Bettye Wright’s TobeMc, a nonprofit senior day care center on Mack Avenue.

The nonprofit organization is just as much an environmental cause as a food access one.

One-third of the food Americans buy every year goes to waste. The Environmental Protection Agency found that in 2019, “about 96 percent of households’ wasted food ended up in landfills, combustion facilities, or down the drain into the sewer system.” Not to mention the food wasted from grocery stores and restaurants.

In fact, at least 25 percent of today’s global warming is driven by methane — which food waste produces — from human actions, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
Wright calls MNFW’s service “phenomenal.”

“Great meals can be made from what otherwise would go to waste.”

How They Do It

The international anti-food waste certification system that MFNW follows, The Pledge on Food Waste, uses a multistep program to help companies to be more efficient about the amount of food they order, how they store it, and how they prepare it and to better coordinate its reuse via customer education and proper portion sizes.

The Pledge has a set certification process that is popular in Europe and Asia but is relatively new in North America. It’s partnering with MFNW to help metro Detroit restaurants and other eateries (such as dining facilities at local universities) eliminate waste, provide food to food-insecure Michiganders, help their bottom line, and be kinder to the environment.

Restaurants that have been certified include the likes of Baobab Fare, Marrow, Miss Kim, and Saffron De Twah.

The Detroit Foundation Hotel and its restaurant, The Apparatus Room, are also on board.

Executive Chef Rece Hogerheide says that despite an initial hubbub over the extra paperwork, “there was an almost immediate buy-in” from his staff.

The certification process can also have an impact on traditional restaurants and establishments that were already environmentally conscious, like Folk on Trumbull Avenue.

“I think the more impactful thing for us has been the conversations around waste and why it’s important to limit that,” says owner and co-founder Rohani Foulkes. “Not just among the team and myself as an owner … but also about informing our customers, … vendors, and partners.”

To see a list of other restaurants and eateries around metro Detroit that have been Pledge on Food Waste certified or have pending certification, go to HourDetroit.com.


This story is from the August 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.