Like a lot of seemingly off-the-wall ideas, this one got its start in Boulder. “We did some research on how much food was actually being tossed in Boulder County,” said Bill Huggins, a 22 year old CU graduate with a degree in Mathematics. “It was probably enough to feed every homeless person in the County. The problem was that fresh produce goes bad easily. Some food banks were picking it up, but by the time they were ready to use it, it had already gone bad. Our idea was to pick it up and use it within a day.”
To do that, some of Huggins' activist friends got together to form a nonprofit they called Boulder Food Rescue, and made arrangements with Ideal Market to collect their discards. What really gives the scheme its edge is how the food is transported. “We use bikes, mainly to reduce the environmental impact, but also because it’s a cool, radical way to do it,” Huggins said. “You’re making a statement when you strap 200 lbs. of food to a bike (actually a converted kiddie cart attached to the bike); If we can haul groceries on a bike, you can do your grocery shopping on a bike. It’s kind of a thumb in the nose of consumer culture.”
After nearly a year working with the Boulder group, Huggins decided it was time to transplant the idea to Denver, his hometown. “I saw it as a way of giving back,” he said. “Plus, this is a bike friendly city, so hauling food on a bike doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s more like a great adventure.”
Accompanying him on his escapade are a dozen volunteers who gather Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 1:00 PM at the Capitol Hill Whole Foods. There they load boxes of produce and crates of ready-made foods like guacamole into the kiddie carts, which are kept in lockdown at the store. Volunteers provide their own bikes. Each bike takes between 100 and 200 lbs. and food is weighed on a bathroom scale before loading to provide accurate tax receipts to the donor. Once loaded, the group pedals to the two houses used by Food Not Bombs, one at 37th and Franklin, the other at 7th and Lipan. “It’s a couple mile trek,” Huggins said, “but we go in a caravan, which makes it more fun. Do it once and you’re hooked.”
Getting a non-profit organization up and running in Denver has been challenging, even frustrating at times for the young activist/entrepreneur. “In Boulder we have a dozen people who commit to twenty hours a week, plus one paid employee,” he said. “In Denver, not so much; mainly because there’s not a tight-knit community of activists here like there is in Boulder. People are already over-committed.”
On the other hand, it’s the folks who do volunteer that keep him interested and involved. “I’ve met some wonderful people doing this,” he said. “It tends to draw in some off-the-beaten-track types, people willing to take risks and do something crazy. I’ve always been drawn to that counter-authority strain.”
Huggins plans to go back to graduate school to learn more useful skills. “This experience has shown me that to make a significant impact you need all the skills you can get,” he said. “I want to study computer science and use that math to do something really cool."
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