February 8, 2023

Food Donation Act Has Support From Princeton Nonprofit

FIGHTING FOOD INSECURITY: Active in the recent passage of the Food Donation Improvement Act were Share My Meals board members, from left, Stan Berteloot, Isabelle Lambotte, and Victoire Cleren. (Photo courtesy of Share My Meals Inc.)

By Anne Levin

Early last month, President Biden signed the Food Donation Improvement Act (FDIA), legislation to reduce food insecurity and food waste, into law. Among the organizations supporting the bill was Share My Meals, which was founded in Princeton in January 2020 and has since delivered more than 175,000 meals to people in need.

Share My Meals was part of a coalition of more than 70 nonprofit and corporate leaders, including WeightWatchers, Grubhub, Food Tank, and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, to push the bill forward. The nonprofit’s involvement came through a family connection.

“A board member of ours is related to a person from WeightWatchers, which is the organization that really set this up,” said Helene Lanctuit, vice president of Share My Meals’ board, who is in charge of food safety protocols, and a consultant for advocacy and sustainability. “So we found out by chance and got in touch, and they were happy to have us. We went to [Washington] D.C. to support it, and it was enacted in December last year.”

According to Share My Meals’ website, more than 1.2 million New Jersey residents are food-insecure. At the same time, 1.5 million tons of food are wasted each year across the state, which raises greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation is actually not new — it amends the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, broadening and clarifying protections for food donors who might be hesitant about liability for food once it leaves their facility.

“Now we can make a more reassuring case to food service providers that donating through Share My Meals is a safe alternative to throwing out perfectly good meals that can help feed families with food insecurity — a win-win for everyone and the environment,” said Isabelle Lambotte, founder of the nonprofit, in a release.

It was shortly before the pandemic that Lambotte, who was volunteering at a local food pantry, gathered a group of Princeton residents to start a program where volunteers could recover prepared meals from corporate cafeterias and deliver them to families in need. Two months in, COVID-19 had shut down corporate offices, and the program had to change

course. The nonprofit turned to local restaurants including The Meeting House, Mezzaluna, and The Blue Bears, using New Jersey’s Sustain and Serve Program to buy meals from them at cost and provide them to families and seniors in need. Board members and volunteers delivered 140,000 meals throughout the region.  

As people began to return to work, Share My Meals was able to return to its original mission of recovering surplus meals, now known as the Meal Recovery Program.

“In October 2021, we reset the operation and started contacting large cafeterias again,” said Lanctuit, “and started working with the eating clubs at Princeton University. We had to put in place a process that would allow us to recover and redistribute foods in a safe way. We had to reassure our food donors this was being done.”

Last year, 63,000 meals were delivered by Share My Meals, serving 1,000 people per week with more than 40 volunteers, 15 community partners, and 30 food donors. “This represents 23 tons and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of food saved — as well as 100 tons of CO2 diverted from the atmosphere,” reads a release.

Plans for the future of Share My Meals are focused on expansion into Trenton, where the need is especially high. The nonprofit already delivers prepared meals to the Rescue Mission of Trenton and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.

“I feel we can really grow our impact,” said Lanctuit. “We’re developing a lot of nice tools and processes, and we can really expand our reach. Our objective is to collaborate with other organizations. That’s our main ambition for 2023. We know there is more and more food insecurity, and the needs are there.”