Mission: Inter-Faith Food Shuttle pioneers innovative, transformative solutions designed to end hunger in our community.
Our Story: In the video below, IFFS Co-Founder and Emeritus CEO Jill Staton Bullard explains how we started and where we going.
In 1989, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle co-founders Jill Staton Bullard and Maxine Solomon began recovering good food from a local restaurant– breakfast sandwiches that would have otherwise been thrown away, simply because “breakfast was over.” They took those first 11 recovered breakfast sandwiches to Shepard’s Table soup kitchen, where the kitchen staff quartered the sandwiches so that 44 people could have protein that day. They realized there was a desperate need for food for the hungry in our community, while at the same time restaurants and grocery stores were discarding food that was still edible and nutritious.
That first year, 750 lbs of food were recovered from three donors. But soon, we realized that people didn’t just need food, they needed nourishment – good, nutritious food, so we started recovering produce from the State Farmers Market.
Each year, we have been able to recover more nutritious food. In 2015, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle recovered over 6.1 million pounds of food from over 200 food donors – grocery stores, wholesalers food brokers, vending companies, catering companies, corporate cafeterias, and the State Farmers Market, as well as gleaned from local farmers’ fields. That food is delivered to 189 programs and 172 agencies that feed the hungry and distributed it through FREE Mobile Markets in low-income neighborhoods across 7 counties.
Early on, as we started talking to people at the soup kitchens and shelters we delivered to and asking them why they were there, we realized that people needed more than food; they needed jobs and job skills so they could earn a living and feed themselves.
At the same time, while soup kitchens and shelters loved the fresh produce we delivered to them, they needed cooked food. So in 1998, we started the Culinary Job Training Program to stabilize raw food into hot or fresh- frozen meals, while simultaneously teaching culinary job skills to unemployed or underemployed adults who may be going through the lines of the very shelters and soup kitchens we served. The skills that the students learned would assist them in getting jobs in the real world to earn a living and break the cycle of poverty.
The people we talked to in soup kitchens and shelters told us something else. Before “food desert” was a popular term, we knew that in many low-income areas all the residents could find at the only place that sold food within walking distance, their corner mini-mart, was beanie-weenies. So we decided to make food accessible to people at their point of need – setting up mobile markets where folks can shop for free at their community centers, churches, and health clinics. But even as we distributed good, nutritious food in places where fresh food was lacking, we realized that many people didn’t recognize fresh produce nor knew how to cook it. Volunteers noticed that obesity was rampant among the poor – which many mistake as being not hungry. We began to see that obesity was the result of eating the only food that was available and affordable: cheap, high-fat, high-starch processed food.
It was vital to take what we learned from the Culinary Job Training Program – the importance of education and skill development — and teach people how to get nutritious, healthy food for themselves. We started teaching nutrition education to address health disparities and equip low income communities with the knowledge and skills to access, purchase, prepare, and eat nutritious food on a limited budget.
We also observed that many immigrant families from agrarian countries did not want to accept free food packaged in boxes with ingredients they didn’t recognize. They wanted to grow their own food, as they were used to doing in their home countries. So we started a community garden with space for Congolese immigrants to grow. As we saw how they solved their own food problems, we saw that this could work for everyone.
Indeed, the late NC Senator Vernon Malone once told us about his experience growing up, “We were poor, but we never knew it, because everybody had gardens and everybody ‘put up’ food and shared.”
We realized that growing food could allow people to eat, even when they didn’t have other income.
In order to truly end hunger, we have to shift the whole paradigm. We realized we couldn’t just keep giving people food forever. We must address the need that exists today, but also make sure that people have the knowledge to feed themselves and their families forever, so we provide training and education for self-sufficiency. We must help individuals change their lives, but we must also change our food system to one that feeds everyone.
We envision a thriving community-led food system in which everyone has the right to safe, healthy, culturally-appropriate food that is produced in a sustainable way. We believe that knowledge of how to grow food and prepare healthy food is an important step in developing locally-owned food systems that build self-sufficiency and community power.
Over our history, we have learned that we must all work together as a community to truly end hunger.
A Quarter-Century of Fighting Hunger in NC
A 25 year anniversary message from our Co-Founder and Emeritus CEO, Jill Staton Bullard:
“We’ve come a long way since those early days of recovering food from grocery stores in the back of station wagons. We truly stand on the shoulders of those early volunteers whose determination and hard work were the only fuel that powered what we did to feed hungry people. Today, over 6000 volunteers help us recover or grow over 7 million pounds of food each year. It astounds me that we now serve 64,000 people per month throughout our region.
But, folks, the one thing I have learned is that this is simply not enough….” Read more here.
“Give a man a fish. Teach a man to fish. Stock the pond for all.”