For some North Texans, a restaurant meal is a luxury they cannot afford. Still, some of them are able to regularly enjoy restaurant food without having to pay a dime. That's because some establishments donate their surplus food to kitchens and food banks that serve the needy.
Hours before they opened their doors for the Wednesday lunch crowd in the kitchen of the Olive Garden on Technology Boulevard in Dallas, the staff was busy prepping not only the meals they were going to sell that day, but also the load of food they were giving away.
"It's part of our culture," Culinary Manager Mike Mrugula explained. Since the inception of Olive Garden Harvest in 2003, the company estimates it has donated 38 million pounds of food nationwide.
The Technology Boulevard Olive Garden alone has given away about 65,500 pounds of food in that time frame says Mrugula. On the day WFAA visited, Mrugula packed up. “Anywhere between 50 and 60 pounds" of things like sauces, seafood, and pasta. Mrugula surmised, “That could feed anywhere between 75 and 100 people depending on how they re-purpose it.”
Just south of downtown Dallas, at a place named Our Calling, some of that food became the main dish for hundreds of homeless people, who were fed a lunch of what the kitchen chef termed 'lasagna casserole.'
“It’s going to fill my stomach up, and I will be ready to roll,” exclaimed a man named 'Dave.' He told WFAA it’s a real treat to get a taste of a nice restaurant. “I think it’s better that you give it to somebody than throw it away. Somebody can use it. Somebody like me," he said.
There’s no shortage of ‘somebodys’ in Dallas who can be helped by surplus restaurant food, which many establishments routinely throw out. “Oh, there is probably enough food thrown away every day to feed Dallas twice,” laments Pastor Wayne Walker, the executive director at Our Calling.
Walker says restaurant donations have become a staple for Our Calling and the vulnerable population it serves. “If we didn’t have businesses like Olive Garden bringing us food we can serve, there would be many days we wouldn’t have food," Walker said.
In this unique relationship between corporations and a community, those on the receiving end say they can’t give enough thanks. In the dining hall, 'Dave' told WFAA he could probably afford a meal at Olive Garden, but that the money could be far more useful for other things he needs. As he prepared to dig into his hearty lunch of lasagna casserole, he said, “I thank the Lord for everything I get daily, and this is one of the blessings I have gotten today.”