From pizzas and bagels to fresh bread, thousands of pounds of food headed for the trash is now being rescued for those in need thanks to the work of a Noblesville man.
John Williamson is being honored with an RTV6 Jefferson Award
for creating the nonprofit Food Rescue.
The father of three said he never gave much thought to what happened to all the restaurant food that went uneaten at the end of the day.
"I was 40 years old and never mentioned taking food to anyone in my entire life," he said.
But when his wife read about the Freegan movement -- a group of people who get their food for free out of Dumpsters -- Williamson said he thought there had to be a better use for what was being thrown away.
That prompted him to found Food Rescue in 2007, and he began picking up surplus food from restaurants to deliver to food pantries.
A Noblesville Panera Bread was the first business to donate food once a week.
"Suddenly, that turned into twice a week and three times a week, and before we knew it, we were picking up several different places that are around the city," Williamson said.
Several Little Caesars Pizza restaurants soon also joined in the effort.
"It's only good for a certain amount of time, and if we don't sell that product, it goes in the trash," said Robin Jessogne, one of the first franchise owners to get involved. "It kind of makes you sick after awhile when we see that you're throwing away."
Working out of a corner of his master bedroom, Williamson soon grew Food Rescue to include more cities, more businesses and more volunteers, who donate time each week to pick up the surplus food.
"Within a very short period of time, we were picking up $1 million of retail food, and, to date, we're picked up $10 million in retail food," Williamson said.
That total includes more than 100,000 Little Caesars pizzas a year.
"You don't understand the impact until you see the benefit, until you see a little kid say, 'Mom, I'm full," Jessogne said.
"We live in one of the richest counties around, and we have 150 families that come in each Thursday to get food," said Kim Demasie with the White River Church Food Pantry. "So when we can hand a whole pizza to a mom that's going to feed her family that night, it's hard to explain how you feel."
What started as a simple idea has turned into a full-time job and passion for Williamson, who hopes to encourage other food companies to get involved.
"I've always said this is kind of like a kite with a gale force wind behind it, and I've just got a hold of it taking it wherever it takes me," Williamson said. "It's just very meaningful that I get to wake up and work on helping children and families in need using surplus food."
Those interested in donating to Food Rescue or volunteering with the group can find more information on the organization's website
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