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Food Shuttle battle hunger

Do you ever wonder where all the food that is not bought at the grocery store goes? Most of it usually goes into a dumpster, to pig farmers, or other places where the food is wasted. Wouldn't it be great if the food could go to people who need it?

Almost every single day, food is transported from local grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants to places around Western New York where those who need food can receive it. The stores, restaurants and bakeries that donate the food, and the volunteers who transport it, make up the Food Shuttle of Western New York.

"A group of women from St. Gregory the Great Church started this organization in 1989," said Rita Eichenger, former president and member of the organization since the beginning. "We just couldn't stand seeing all this food being thrown out, when it could be put to good use."

Teenagers, even those who can't yet drive themselves, are among the Food Shuttle volunteers. Scott Wozer, a junior at St. Joseph Collegiate Institute, has been involved for two years. "I know that because of my efforts along with my parents, we help feed numerous people every time we load up the back of my mom's car. That in itself is very gratifying, but also, I love seeing the dedication of the people who run the food banks and missions that we drop the food off to," said Wozer. He gets credit for his volunteer hours for his Food Shuttle efforts.

Local Wegmans stores provide an average of around 1 million pounds of food a year to the food shuttle, said Ann McCarthy, consumer affairs manager of the Wegmans Buffalo Division. "We provide nutritious, perishable products to Food Shuttle volunteers on a daily basis at every single one of our Western New York stores," she said. "We share in the Food Shuttle's commitment to feeding those in our community who are hungry."

Volunteer opportunities through the Food Shuttle are flexible. "They (volunteers) can drive once a week, once a month, whatever is good for them," said Eichenger. "High school students can drive with their parents, or if they have a license, they can drive on their own."

Charles Bowman, vice president of Food Shuttle of WNY, noted in the November newsletter the Wegmans Galleria donated 6,400 pounds of food when it closed this fall. Food Shuttle volunteers transported that food to various food pantries. They also transported 1,100 chicken wings after Wingfest on Labor Day weekend. "We pick up about two tons of food a week," said Eichenger.

"There's at least 300 pounds of food each time I drive," said St. Joseph Collegiate junior William Evangelista, who has been involved in Food Shuttle for three years.

Seventh graders from St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville have been responsible for a Food Shuttle run on Saturday mornings during the school year for the past six years. Seventh graders and their parents meet Food Shuttle volunteers at the Wegmans on Sheridan Drive, load the food into their cars and then deliver it to Prayer and Praise, a non-profit organization at Main and Best in Buffalo, and the St. Vincent DePaul Dining Room on Main Street in Buffalo.

Tom Warner was one of the first students from this year's seventh grade class to participate. "Most other projects have been about doing gardening or helping clean up properties or sort clothing or things. But this is different because I actually got to meet some of the people who were benefiting from the delivery of the food, and saw how much it meant to them," Tom said. "I think the Food Shuttle is really important because otherwise so much food would be wasted or thrown away, and there are so many people that really, really need that food, and are so grateful to receive it," he added.

Others feel the same way about the Food Shuttle's efforts. "I know that many rely on our services for a meal, and that by helping the unfortunate, we are helping all of Buffalo," said Wozer.

Anyone wishing to volunteer or learn more can visit the Web site, or call the Food Shuttle hotline at 688-2527.

Allison Couche is a sophomore at Williamsville South.

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