Farragut-based Food Donation Connection has been linking restaurants and other food industry donors with charities to help feed the hungry for nearly 27 years.
FDC, with its headquarters in The Renaissance | Farragut, serves as a middleman between food donors and charities locally, as well as across the nation and in about 26 other countries, explained Jim Larson, vice president of development food services.
“Our role is to coordinate surplus food donations from restaurants to local non-profits,” he said. “We are not a food bank, and we don’t handle the food or pick up the food, but we work with restaurants that have surplus food.” Larson explained that surplus food is food that is prepared — but not served.
“It’s never left the kitchen,” he added. “They are giving it to a local charity, and the charity gets it for free. The charity typically comes by once a week to pick up the food.
“Rather than throw it out, (the restaurant employees) just properly handle it in a food-safe way that will save it. They will freeze it and then donate it.”
FDC operates a call center to provide logistical support and to answer questions for both the restaurant donors and the charities receiving the food. To help with that endeavor, Larson said everyone at FDC goes through a ServSafe course to ensure that “we are fully aware of all that goes into handling food safely.”
FDC has about 20,000 donor locations, including restaurants, airport food service providers, grocery stores and convenience stores. Using a database, it links these locations with about 10,000 non-profit charities in the United States.
To ensure a successful donation relationship, FDC vets the charities in each city. Charities in the Knoxville area include Knox Area Rescue Ministries, Salvation Army and many others.
“We establish that relationship, so the agency works with the donor to arrange a pick-up schedule,” Larson said. “We work with the donor to figure out the safe way to donate (the food).”
One such client is Darden Restaurants, which has 1,700 restaurants nationwide and is the parent company of such restaurants as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and Seasons 52, among others. Darden Restaurants call its program the Harvest Program.
“We all do some sort of Harvest Program weekly,” said Tony Llewellyn, general manager of the Olive Garden at 10923 Parkside Drive.
“It’s awesome. Besides everyday running the restaurant, serving lunch and dinner to the community, (the program) is probably the most important thing we do.”
FDC’s first location in Farragut was next to Rick Terry Jewelry Designs off Kingston Pike. It moved to Renaissance in 2007.
For more information about FDC, visit www.foodtodonate.com or call 800-831-8161.
“My Olive Garden alone, since 2005, has donated over $80,000 worth of food,” he said. “The company has donated over 40 million pounds (of food). That’s pretty powerful.”
FDC was the vision of founder Bill Reighard, the company’s president who started FDC in August 1992.
“For me, (FDC) was a call of Christ because I was an executive with a good career and a good income, but I felt like I needed to do more to help others,” he said.
At that time, Reighard was an executive with PepsiCo Food Service, which owned Pizza Huts around the world.
“I was working with them in food service, and I became aware that Pizza Hut U.S. was starting a program of donating personal pan pizzas,” he said, adding he got involved with that program.
When Reighard left PepsiCo Food Service, with PepsiCo’s blessing, in August 1992, he started Food Donation Connection, and Pizza Hut was his first customer.
FDC’s first program was the Pizza Hut Harvest Program.
“So, that was the name that stuck with a lot of the companies,” Larson said.
“Our mission statement comes from when Jesus fed the 5,000,” Reighard said then read the mission statement based on John 6:12, “When they all had enough to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’”
He started FDC as a family business in a bonus room above his garage in Chattanooga with Larson the first permanent non-family staff member to come on board.
“We met in Chattanooga in 1992, when he moved from Wichita,” Larson said. “We went to the same church, so we met at a prayer group that met once a week at someone’s home.
“We were listening to how this food donation thing was unfolding through prayer requests,” he said.
Reighard moved to Virginia, running the business from a farm for a while, but returned to East Tennessee, moving to Farragut in 2003.