Published in The American Genius
Recently, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the world is at risk of a "food crisis," as the War in Ukraine displaces millions and disrupts the supply chains of key global crops. Scores of refugees were expected from the early days of this conflict. Now, with more than 3 million Ukrainians having already fled to neighboring Eastern Europe nations, the world begins to grapple with the humanitarian challenges that always accompany war.
In Ukraine, America, and across the world, hunger and homelessness are intrinsically linked. This may seem obvious, as food and shelter are two of life's most basic necessities, but the implications of the connection in this country are both broad and significant.
While an abundance of food and the comfort of a safe, reliable home leaves one free to focus on life's other pursuits, their absence is all-consuming, rendering every other priority secondary, irrelevant, or altogether unattainable.
Last summer, research conducted by the National Association of Realtors® found some eight million U.S. households lacked enough food to eat. The same report, Housing Affordability and Food Sufficiency noted that roughly 40% of respondents had difficulty paying for household expenses like food, medical bills, mortgage payments, and other loans.
Worse yet, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, half a million Americans were homeless on any given night in early 2019. As the nonprofit group Move for Hunger explains, "Hunger often precedes homelessness because people who are forced to decide between paying for housing or groceries will, more often than not, choose the former."
I am fortunate that I cannot claim to have experienced the anguish of homelessness or the dull pains of hunger. But as NAR's CEO, I am inspired every day by the work our members do to ensure people in their communities have a roof over their heads and a place to feed their families.
The 1.5 million members of NAR are seen not only as brokers of the American Dream but also as one of the more engaged, civic-minded groups in our nation. Realtors®, in fact, volunteer at three times the rate of the average American (67% compared to 23%), while 82% of Realtors® made a financial donation at some point in 2020.
Incidentally, the sheer size of our association and the scope of our annual events operation has created a unique opportunity to capitalize on our members' philanthropic spirit.
I first learned of the Food Recovery Network while attending a function organized by my daughter on the campus of the University of Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.
At the time, I was awed by the innovative techniques employed by this little-known group—following strict guidelines to preserve food served at events in order to ensure any excess could safely and legally be donated to local food banks, food pantries, and homeless shelters. And I quickly learned of the very real impact this was making in nearby communities.
Right away, I knew NAR—given the dozens of events our association hosts or is in some way affiliated with throughout the year—was a perfect fit for FRN.
Today, less than three years later, roughly 5,000 pounds of food recovered from our events has been provided to hunger-fighting groups across the U.S.
In total, FRN has united universities, food, and dining services, and private sector entities in the fight against hunger for now more than a decade, facilitating the donation of some 5.7 million meals in that time. Ultimately, as FRN's Executive Director Regina Anderson often says, small actions translate to big results when it comes to ensuring people are fed.
"NAR members know that calling FRN can ensure their bigger events have a recovery program in place without having to dedicate their whole career to the effort of food recovery," Anderson noted recently. "Knowing the right people to call means NAR members are part of the solution."
And while FRN is more than happy to answer calls from those who want to ensure their excess food finds a proper home, the non-profit is also taking proactive steps to further the nation's fight against hunger.
Capitalizing on the abundance of available, public data, FRN is working to create a nationwide, digital mapping system that will help the group identify where surplus food is plentiful and where food insecurity is most prevalent. These efforts have produced an effective visual aid that allows FRN to make more efficient—and impactful—decisions regarding where its time and effort are best spent.
"All with the goal of feeding more people, faster," Anderson said.
FRN recently released preliminary results of its pilot project in Atlanta, GA. The program, centered around gleaning, the act of harvesting surplus produce from farm fields or farmers' markets, helped the group recover 15,600 pounds of the most sought-after fresh food items in just 21 weeks. One of every three Atlanta residents are food insecure, Anderson notes, and some 125,000 pounds of food are wasted in the area each year.
NAR is immensely grateful to have located a partner like FRN, which identified an area of real need in our world and found a practical, effective way to address it. While expanding and enhancing its current efforts, the group is always looking for new allies and new opportunities to serve. Any individual or organization interested in partnering with FRN can email email@example.com, or visit nar.realtor/frn or foodrecoverynetwork.org for more information.
Food security, just like shelter, is not a luxury – it's a basic right of life. At NAR, we're seeking out chances to build off this relationship and we encourage our industry and trade partners to explore similar opportunities in their communities. The need is great. But so is our desire to help. And that would be a terrible thing to waste.