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Local Restaurants Helping Central Iowa Shelter and Services Through Food Rescue

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Every day the Central Iowa Shelter and Services (CISS) relies on food rescue to feed hundreds of people in their community.

Places like restaurants that prepared too much food, food that would otherwise go to waste, is instead donated to those who need it most.

“Ultimately we’re planning for how many guests we are going to [have] each day and each week. As we do our orders and we prepare our food, unfortunately, we’re not perfect and we prepare too much food and that’s the food that we eventually donate to the Central Iowa Shelter and Services,” Jim Beltz, General Manager of Olive Garden in West Des Moines said.

West Des Moines’ Olive Garden is a veteran business when it comes to food rescue through their harvest program. They've donated over 66,000 pounds of food to CISS since 2005. It may be only a few bags full a week, but it really makes a difference to Central Iowa's food insecure community.

“You know you take it for granted. You think about every single day just trying to get by and trying to do a little bit more, But when you combine those numbers together and the impact that an organization like Olive Garden has on the shelter, it makes you pause for a second and really make you grateful for the gift that they've been walking with us on in our mission,” Melissa O’Neil, the CEO for CISS said.

Olive Garden tends to donate lots of soup, lasagna, and meat sauce.

“I’m just thinking wow that's a lot of food,” Beltz said. “As operators, you think we would be doing a little bit better job than that, but in the end, it's a good feeling knowing that we’re just not throwing it in the garbage can. It is really going to those people in need.”

Olive Garden also donates single meals. They say those are from a to-go order that never gets picked up, or an order they got wrong.

“Food rescue is a huge part of what happens at the shelter and why we are able to feed so many people in our community,” O’Neil said. “Specifically with Olive Garden and what they do with those individual meals, it really allows us to set those meals aside for individuals that are working in our community who come home or back to the shelter a little bit later and miss a meal.”

O’Neil said there are dozens of other restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations that all help CISS just like Olive Garden to help feed their sometimes 300 residents a night.

“It’s just a great sense of pride being able to work for a company such as Olive Garden that can do these things and giving back to our community in which we operate. Obviously, it’s the community that’s helping us and it feels really good being able to give that food to somebody where it can go to use,” Beltz said.

It’s not just restaurants that can donate. O’Neil said they would gladly accept leftover food from a catered event. Even extra produce from your garden can be donated. O’Neil says fruits and vegetables are always needed and you receive a tax credit for donating.

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