Some years ago, when she was a freshman, a commercial caught Lillian McEntire’s ’18 eye. The spot centered on the Final Four basketball tournament, but it was the mention of one team’s participation in something called the Food Recovery Network that led McEntire to look up the organization’s website on the spot.
“I was like, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard,'” McEntire said of the Food Recovery Network, a national student-run organization that fights against food waste and hunger.
The Food Recovery Network began at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2011 and has since led to 230 chapters across the nation. After McEntire touched base with the organization through the web, she went through the process of implementing a chapter on the UCA campus. In December 2015, UCA’s Food Recovery Network was up and running.
“I’m just really passionate about it because I feel like it’s so amazing that it can be an impact on hunger and food waste, which are two really different but also really connected problems,” she said.
Seven times a week, Food Recovery Network volunteers visit Einstein Bros. Bagels in the UCA Student Center and Panera Bread in Conway to collect unused food items–mostly bread for now–weigh the collection and transport the items to partner shelters in Conway like the Bethlehem House, Soul Food Cafe, Last Chance Ministries and the Ministry Center. As of Aug. 2, the organization had recovered and donated more than 24,398 pounds of food.
In addition to recovering unused food, the Food Recovery Network is currently working to recover unused coffee grounds from local coffee shops to support composting at local gardens. The organization is also the reason why the Student Center Food Court has recycling bins.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Food Recovery Network won Outstanding Community Outreach by a Student Organization at the UCA Student Involvement Awards for both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.
“Just to feel like we are having that much of an impact is really amazing, and to be awarded among all the other organizations that are doing great things, it’s just a great feeling to be recognized for that,” McEntire said.
McEntire was recruiting her friends as volunteers in the organization’s early stages, but now more than 100 people are on its roster.
“Lillian was an amazing leader and president. She made sure to prepare us and give us time to ease into our future roles,” said sophomore Vincz Ong, the organization’s current president. “Lillian also has been really helpful in showing us how to follow through with ideas so that we have an idea for any future plans. All in all, she left FRN with stability and a great foundation for growth.”
Hannah Parks ’18 volunteered with the organization for two years. Through the group, she’s learned about the shelters and resources that exist in the Conway community.
“Maybe we’re not ending world hunger, but we are lowering the food waste in our community, and it’s a great thing to see this food go to people who actually need it,” Parks said.
Sophomore Nayeli Wilcox, vice president of UCA’s Food Recovery Network, said she was drawn to the organization because of its message and leadership opportunities.
“With FRN, even if you do just one recovery once a month, or maybe even once a semester, it’s a huge help, and you’re definitely contributing,” she said. “Food waste is a very, very big issue that we really need to give a better priority to.”
McEntire’s involvement as founder and president also helped her confidence. Social settings weren’t her forte until she took the reigns on calling potential partner restaurants and speaking to other organizations about the Food Recovery Network. She even became an ambassador for UCA and the Schedler Honors College. In 2016, she was named a Newman Civic Fellow.
“I feel like it built my personal and social interaction skills, and it helped me to meet a lot of people on campus that I wouldn’t have otherwise and just build connections, so it was a great opportunity,” she said.
McEntire is currently studying at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis and aspires to use her optometry skills to help others while also supporting the Food Recovery Network or similar organizations.
“I feel like it’s just a really amazing organization that has the power to really impact some things that are affecting our communities and our environment,” she said.