Food Redistribution Guides Abbe Stern

Abbe Stern. Courtesy of Sarah Maiellano

People find their paths in life at different times and, for Abbe Stern, that moment came at Johnson & Wales University while her professor was lecturing.

“The professor said, ‘There’s enough food on the planet to feed everyone. The problem is distribution,’” Stern said.

A couple years later, while working in the food service industry, Stern saw firsthand the inefficiencies and waste in food distribution and took action.

“My trigger point was when I saw a trash can full of bread,” she said. “I just lost it. Why did we throw this away?”

At first, Stern, 31, collected leftover bread from the Rittenhouse Hotel where she was working and brought it to the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Soon, she was collecting and redistributing bread from multiple sources to several local food rescue organizations.

Stern’s work has made others take notice, as she’s one of five finalists for the National Museum of American Jewish History’s Hometown Hero inductee into its Ed Snider Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame.

The museum solicited nominations for Hometown Heroes — “everyday citizens who strive to make their communities a better place and made particularly impactful commitments during the pandemic” — in May, and voting continues until June 21.

NMAJH cited Stern for volunteering with Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Mitzvah Food Program, founding Fooding Forward to connect food business with nonprofits to share excess food, and for working with Step Up to the Plate during the pandemic. The latter is a 2020 collaboration of the Broad Street Ministry, Prevention Point Philadelphia and SEAMAAC, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and several nonprofits to provide free lunches to the needy. More than 50,000 lunches were provided through April.

As project manager for Step Up to the Plate, Stern faced numerous pandemic-related challenges, noting that “waste occurs when something unexpected happens.”

At first, Stern had to scurry to find places for the food that pandemic-closed restaurants were giving away before it spoiled. And then there were different challenges, such as shelters no longer being able to serve food indoors. That created the need to find ways to coordinate meals at other sites.

Earlier this year, Stern joined Too Good to Go, the European-based organization that debuted in Philadelphia in February. TGTG’s app links consumers with food businesses, allowing retailers to sell surplus food, while consumers get value, too.

While various efforts are making a difference in getting food to where it needs to be, there’s still a long way to go, said Stern, a Wynnewood native who celebrated her bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El.

“The access to food is atrocious,” she said, adding that anyone looking to donate food should make sure their chosen organization can accept it, needs it and wants it. “Hunger is something we should be easily able to solve.”

A benefit of working in food redistribution comes from the thanks received. Stern recounted delivering food to an ill — but grateful — woman through the Mitzvah Food Program.

“I felt so privileged to do that work for her,” she said.

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