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The Meeting and Events Industry Takes Aim at Hunger

By Marcia Durst, CMP

California is one of the most abundant agricultural regions in the world, but a startling number of residents aren’t always sure where their next meal will come from. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, one in eight Californians struggles with hunger. The situation is especially startling for children; one in five is food insecure.

Hunger is not a supply problem, it’s a logistics challenge. And the meetings and events industry is full of logistics-minded people who are in a position to chip away at it.

Without a doubt, it’s a planner’s job to be diligent with projecting accurate food counts. But when event turnout is unexpectedly low, there’s an opportunity to get the surplus into the hands of those in need, instead of into the landfill.

After seeing far too many perfectly good meals go to waste event after event, a team of industry planners and suppliers in the Sacramento area set out to rally the local meetings and events industry to donate extras instead of the all too common practice of dumping so much in the trash.

And so the Sacramento Second Helping Task Force began.

During early meetings, the task force team identified the need for a streamlined process for donation on any sort of scale. While they had their suspicions about how uncommon donation practices were and what objections they were likely to encounter, they surveyed area hotels and caterers.

Only half the suppliers surveyed had policies in place to donate surplus food. Liability concerns topped the list of reasons for not donating, and nearly 75 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with or unsure about federal protections. Only one was familiar with California legislation enacted last year that provides sweeping protections.

So, what are those protections?

Since 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act has provided federal protections when donating food in good faith to nonprofit organizations for distribution to individuals in need.

In January 2018, California’s Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (Eggman) further clarified and broadened those protections as a means of encouraging food donation across the state. In part, the Eggman act specifically protects businesses and organizations when they make a good-faith evaluation that food is wholesome at the time of donation. Plain and simple.

To address the second most common objection to food donation, task force members talked to kitchens that were already donating to study their success. It became clear that identifying receiving agencies willing to pick up donations and arrive on-site with their own containers for transferring food was key.

So, where to start finding those agencies in a market with hundreds of groups supplying food? The task force enlisted the assistance of Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, a clearinghouse of sorts for food donation of all kinds in the area. SFBFS then provided a list of nonprofits that fit the criteria. The work of drilling down to the fine details of each agency’s needs and availability then could begin.

The result of these efforts is the Sacramento Second Helping Kitchen Toolkit, a document that answers four simple questions: Who can pick up from my location? What days and times can I call for a pickup? What protection do I have from liability? And where can I get updates and additional information?

A second toolkit for planners lays out how to coordinate food rescue efforts, including sample RFP and contract language.

The Environmental Upside

Donating extra food not only feeds those in need but also has big environmental benefits. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that a staggering 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s food supply is wasted. Food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills. According to the Whole Earth Calculator, every 10 pounds of food that’s tossed generates 5 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of the amount generated by idling your car for two hours.


The time to plan for potential donation is before the event. At a minimum, ask your venue what their donation policy is and express your wish to donate leftovers. If they agree, include language in your banquet event order so the floor staff is aware.

During the event, communicate with your banquet team about any lastminute changes in projected attendance. If a banquet is being served, discuss a plan with the banquet manager for if or when to refresh with food being held in the service area. Unpresented food can be donated.

Post-event, document pre-event registration and actual attendance at each food function, as well as quantities ordered and actual quantities served in order to more accurately place orders in the future.


The Sacramento Second Helping Toolkit and Planner Toolkit, while providing resources specific to Sacramento, can offer a template for starting similar efforts in other areas. It includes a sample RFP and contract language (courtesy of the Florida and Caribbean Sustainable Events Network) and waivers. (You can find this on MPI Sacramento/Sierra Nevada Chapter’s website.)

Change the Flow of Food, created by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, has comprehensive tools to reduce food waste in the hospitality industry, including a focused look at food rescue. From executive and management buy-in, to front line implementation, this is an exceptional site for starting a food rescue plan.

Measure the social and environmental impact of donated food using the Whole Earth Calculator at

How to locate food pantries in the area of your event:

How to locate food banks in the area of your event: find-your-local-foodbank

How to locate homeless shelters by zip code:

As the owner of Durst Event Strategies, Marcia Durst, CMP has planned food and beverage functions for more than a half-million meeting and event goers. She teaches the food, beverage and venue planning course in the Sacramento State College of Continuing Education meeting and event planning certificate program.