AFP Interview Series: Nominee Detroit Feedback Loop

Wayne State students save food for Detroit’s less fortunate
CamilLa Cascardo and Nicholas Ang // Photograph by Mahmoud Hijazi

In 2016, Wayne State freshmen Nicholas Ang and Camilla Cascardo noticed their university’s cafeteria dishwasher conveyer belt packed with plates of uneaten food. Startled by the excessive waste and alarming number of Detroiters lacking nutritious food options, the medical students took action. They formed the Detroit Feedback Loop in 2017, now a non-profit organization that provides prepared meals to those in need throughout Detroit. Although their charitable efforts arose legal battles and liability issues, the duo, both 21, came out on top. As of June, DFL has served more than 14,700 meals in metro Detroit.

Give Detroit: When you formed DFL and began transferring leftover food from your cafeteria to local shelters, the issue of the health and safety of those receiving your donations came into question. How did you overcome this problem?

Camilla Cascardo: These hurdles forced us to expand our mission outside our college’s cafeteria. We began working with on-campus organizations, the alumni association, honors college, and a few restaurants in Detroit which allowed us to gain the credibility we needed to work with Aramark, the main distributor of our food on campus. Last year, we entered and won first place for the Optimize Wayne Social Innovation Challenge, an on-campus organization that mentors students who express interest in launching a startup and, eventually, a business. Through the Saturday workshops, we learned how to tackle these legal barriers. We contacted Detroit’s Kerr Russell Law Firm, who provided an expert program that offered us free counseling services. We became a nonprofit with the help of the law firm and Wayne State’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety gave permission for us to certify our volunteers. Now, we are transporting food in the most efficient and safest manner possible, preventing food-borne illnesses in doing so.

Nicholas Ang: In addition to partnering with Detroit’s Kerr Russell law firm, who made our presence known throughout the community, we attended a Michigan Restaurant Association meeting in Corktown, where we received feedback from small businesses in Detroit so that we could find our footing. We became aware of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Law, which is a federal legislation that protects any organization or individual that donates food with good intentions. Essentially, those who supply food are protected from any repercussions that might arise from expired donations. Many organizations, restaurants, and businesses were not donating food because they were not familiar with this law or they could not commit the time and resources needed to donate. As a nonprofit, we can form partnerships and create contracts with companies in a way that provides certainty for both sides involved. If any legal issues come up, the liability would fall on us and we can also provide the necessary resources and the time.

Why did you both decide to tackle this issue? Is it related to either of your majors?

NA: We’re not nutrition majors, but we’re in Wayne State’s medical program, MedStart. The program has seminars throughout the year, and one that we specifically attended discussed the systemic issue of diabetes in Detroit. Individuals with a lower socioeconomic status often lack access to proper nutrition. Much of Wayne State’s cafeteria waste was composed of fruit and vegetables. We wanted to provide for those who can’t afford healthy food, and therefore, eat meals, which cause health problems like diabetes.

CC: While working at a free clinic in Detroit, I saw many patients with diabetes and hypertension. Our partnership with Eastern Market allows us to supply these patients and residents of Detroit with fresh produce, which will prevent these maladies that we’re seeing in this area. One time, the Veterans Housing Program’s oven was broken, which left many unable to cook. By bringing them prepared food, they were able to have a fresh meal. The impact that prepared food can make is huge. A lot of organizations receive non-perishable items, because it’s easiest to transport. But with our model, the prepared food items are really helpful to local shelters and soup kitchens.

Will you continue working with Detroit Feedback Loop after you graduate or will you pass it on to other Wayne State students?

CC: Nick and I devised an advisory position for Detroit Feedback Loop when we leave. We want to make sure everything runs smoothly, but we’re handing it off and allowing the next generation to take over and keep it sustainable.

NA: It’s important for other students to have leadership experience in the community, to feel like they’re actually making a difference.

What does it mean for you to be receiving the Sparky Anderson Award for Youth in Philanthropy?

CC: First of all, we were shocked to be able to receive this award. We were so incredibly happy. It’s amazing to see how far Detroit Feedback Loop has come and how overwhelmingly supportive the whole community has been with our efforts. A lot of times you want to start something but you’re not sure if it’s going to work. This award furthers our motivation to continue our work.

NA: It’s amazing to see that what we’ve done has actually meant something to people. And to have that title as philanthropist — I don’t have any money, I’m not a philanthropist (laughs) — it’s just something you’re not expecting at this age to be able to say that you are, which is incredible.

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