Hotel buffets can be a huge waste of food. Under standard operating procedures, the leftover food from hotel buffets, as well as other restaurants, must be thrown out at the end of the day.
The Bogor-based Emmanuel Foundation, which aims to provide support, education and health care to less fortunate communities in Indonesia, sees this as a chance to make a difference.
In 2003, it established a food rescue program, which collects the leftover food from some of Jakarta’s ritziest hotels and redistributes it to those in need.
Twelve years on, the program is still going strong, helping around 265,000 less fortunate families. It even receives regular food contributions from an airline catering company and three top restaurants in Jakarta.
Monique Thenu, the chief executive of the Emmanuel Foundation, says the program was initiated by a then-new director at a five-star hotel in Jakarta, who contacted founder Emmanuel Laumonier about a food rescue program. The French-Indonesian humanitarian immediately considered it a good idea, and soon after sent over a minivan to pick up hotel food each day.
At the start, the program only redistributed the food to trash-picking communities across Jakarta. The program has grown much bigger now, operating two large trucks and connecting with 16 hotels, including the J.W. Marriott.
“Each month, we pick up around two tons of food from these hotels,” Monique says.
To collect the food, the trucks leave the Emmanuel Foundation’s headquarters in Bogor very early in the morning, arriving in Jakarta at 9 a.m. They then start their rounds of the hotel, picking up leftovers from the breakfast buffets, including breads, fruits, meats, chicken, sausages and cakes.
“The hotel chefs screen the food carefully,” Monique says. “We then package it by category and place it in the trucks’ chillers.”
The trucks then head from the hotels to impoverished communities in Kampung Pisang, Tangerang; Bukit Sentul, Bogor; and Galuga, Bogor, all of which the Emmanuel Foundation has surveyed beforehand.
“Most of the people in these areas work as trash pickers or day laborers,” Monique says. “They’re very poor and live in squalid conditions.”
The Emmanuel Foundation works with the community leaders in these neighborhoods to register and provide daily coupons for residents to get their daily food portions from the program.
“The trucks usually arrive in our neighborhood around midday,” says Bibit, a resident of Kampung Pisang.
By then, the local women and children have gathered at the appointed meeting point, usually an open field, bringing their own food containers.
The staff of the Emmanuel Foundation then distribute the food to them.
“We feel so fortunate,” says Santi, another resident of Kampung Pisang. “With the FRP program, our family can have meat almost every day. Before, we could only afford meat once a year, on Idul Adha [an Islamic holiday].”
Santi says her family would otherwise subsist only on rice, vegetables and crackers. Even eggs were a luxury for them before.
“Now, my children can have bread, milk and cereal for breakfast,” says Santi, who also works at a vegetable farm in Tangerang. “And we can have eggs, chicken and meat for lunch and dinner.”
Does such a program make the people dependent on handouts?
“Well, this program is intended to improve the recipients’ daily nutrition,” Monique says. “And when the people achieve self-sufficiency, we usually move to another location.”
Together with the program, the Emmanuel Foundation also organizes workshops on food processing in the neighborhoods.
“A couple of months ago, we had a chef who taught them how to make meatballs from bread, without meat,” Monique says. “The bakso actually tastes good, just like dumplings.”
Participating hotels also organize visits for the kids. Recently, the foundation and the Marriott invited 55 children and their caretakers to a buffet dinner at the hotel.
Bagaskara, a third-grader from Kampung Pisang who went on the trip, says he was astounded at the sight of the buffet.
“There’s so much food and everything is so delicious,” he says. “But I especially love the soup and the bread.”
“We hope many more hotels, restaurants and caterers will join us in salvaging food and helping those in need,” Monique says.
For more information, check out yayasan-emmanuel.org.