Op-Ed- Helping Restaurants Help the Hungry by Senator Suzi Oppenheimer

Every night, millions of men, women and children in New York go to bed hungry.  The Food Bank Association of New York, a consortium of regional food banks throughout the state, estimates that in 2010, close to three million New Yorkers will receive emergency food assistance from food banks, soup kitchens, shelters and other emergency feeding programs.

At the same time, one-quarter of all food served in restaurants is thrown away each day, simply because restaurants fear potential liability should someone get sick from a donation of fresh food.  The amount of food discarded is staggering, given that nearly 49 million people live in hunger within the United States.

In this difficult economic environment, more and more people are turning to emergency food programs for assistance, and our charities are overwhelmed and underfunded to meet this increased demand.  This year I was able to secure a state grant of $100,000 for the Food Bank of Westchester to help feed the hungry here in Westchester County.  But more can and should be done.  That’s why I helped lead the fight for the “Restaurants Lending a Helping Hand Act,” which recently passed the state Senate.  This legislation would provide protection from civil or criminal liability if a restaurant in good faith donates canned or perishable food to a bona fide charitable organization.  

While some restaurants already donate leftover food, this bill encourages other restaurants and food service providers to join suit, by removing unnecessary impediments to food donations.  Donors must, of course, continue to comply with existing laws regulating the health or sanitation of food, as well as reasonably inspect the food at the time of donation to ensure that it is fit for human consumption.

The Restaurants Lending a Helping Hand Act is a common sense approach to feeding needy individuals and families in our communities.  I urge you to encourage your state Assembly members and the Governor to support this legislation and enact it into law.