On Tuesday, Jim Davis walked out of Pollock Dining Commons with a white to-go box filled with food from dinner that night.
But the take-out wasn’t for him. And he was carrying more than just a simple to-go box.
He loaded the backseat of his black Hyundai with a cooler filled with 10 meals of fajitas, a vegetable chimichanga and a chocolate-chip cookie before making the five-minute drive to House of Care.
Walking in the front door, Davis (senior-information sciences and technology) was greeted with smiles and hellos from employees and patients alike. He carried the food to the kitchen, and a resident at House of Care eagerly accepted one of Davis’ cookies and chewed happily.
Looking on, House of Care Assistant Administrator Kim Wells expressed her gratitude to Davis, who said he wasn’t the only one to thank.
“It means a lot to us that it means a lot to you,” Davis said.
By “us,” Davis means his fellow members of Waste Not — an on-campus student club devoted to the reduction of waste and betterment of the community.
And to him, this trip to make sure Penn State’s leftovers don’t go to waste was just another typical Tuesday evening.
Rather than throwing away or composting perfectly good food, Waste Not aims to put the food to a more direct use — giving it to those in need, Davis said.
Five days a week, members of Waste Not pick up excess food from Findlay, Waring, Warnock and Pollock Dining Commons and deliver it to halfway homes and care houses around State College.
When the Waste Not members arrive at the dining commons, their first step is signing out a cooler filled with pre-packaged carry-out boxes with food from that night’s dinner.
Even though Davis and his friends are regulars around the dining halls, it isn’t always a guarantee Food Services will have enough food for them to distribute.
“They are never allowed to make more for us,” Davis said. “It completely defeats the purpose.”
That purpose is putting what would otherwise be thrown away to good use — and he said that small gesture can mean the world to some people.
Shaylene Trapp, event coordinator for Waste Not, said when she makes her weekly donation runs to Centre House, 217 E. Nittany Ave., she always finds a friend waiting for her at the door.
Trapp (junior-communication science and disorders) said most people don’t rely on others to determine their meals — but seeing the sparkle in the eyes of the little girl who always greets her is a reminder why her work is important.
“She’s just so happy that I’m bringing her food — food the dining hall would have thrown away anyway,” Trapp said. “No matter how bad my day was, she’s always there and makes me feel better.”
A few months into his first semester with Waste Not, Davis had been going about business as usual, making weekly runs. Soon, though, he realized the group was no longer having weekly meetings.
He kept making delivery runs throughout the year, but he said he had no idea what was going on with the organization or the other members.
Eventually, Davis called the then-vice president, only to be told that — as far as she knew — he was the only one still involved.
From there, Davis assumed the role of president and eventually re-organized a solid group of volunteers.
“I figured that as long as it wasn’t taking up too much of my time, I should keep doing it,” Davis said. “I really just didn’t want to see it die.”
It’s this kind of passion, Residential Dining Director Lisa Wandel said, that really makes a difference in Waste Not’s efforts.
“[Jim] could have said, ‘That’s too much work, I have to study, I have classes,’ ” Wandel said. “He very easily could have walked away — but he didn’t.”
Davis said he wanted to help the community in a way where he got to meet the people he was helping, but as a first-time president of a student organization, navigating the red tape was a challenge.
The hardest part, he said, was figuring everything out on his own.
While Davis’ primary focus in rebuilding Waste Not was contacting the dining commons, shelters and care homes with the information the former vice president gave him, he also needed to find an adviser.
Davis’ first choice was Mary Rohrer-Dann, a professor for a creative writing class he took and someone he knew to already have a stake in other community organizations. Thankfully, Davis said, Rohrer-Dann accepted the offer, and she’s been a huge help to the organization ever since.
“She really takes a personal interest in what we are doing, which I think is unique to most advisers who stay behind the scenes,” Davis said.
Rohrer-Dann has gone on a few food runs with the members, and she even serves as a backup runner in case someone who is scheduled has a conflict.
But when she is called into action, Rohrer-Dann said she doesn’t mind.
Going along for the runs gave her insight into some groups around State College she wasn’t previously aware of, she said, and it gives her the opportunity to see the impact of Waste Not firsthand.
Donations from groups like Waste Not are a key to survival for House of Care, Wells said.
“We’re non-profit, and with the cost of food being so much, this saves us so much,” Wells said.
With five residents, Wells said the food can last the house a long time, especially when she breaks it up to make soups or casseroles.
The residents all look forward to the food, and Wells said some even stay up late on the night of deliveries to receive the treats.
The organization delivers leftover food from the dining halls to six different locations around the State College area, with each volunteer doing one run per week while Davis works two, every Sunday and Tuesday.
In addition to House of Care, Waste Not delivers to five other transitional living houses, runaway homes and shelters: the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Stormbreak, Centre House, Burrowes Haven and Stepping Stone.
All of the places are right above Beaver Avenue — and Davis said it’s especially important that there are so many homes providing services to those in need in the State College area.
Referencing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Davis said Centre County’s poverty rate is almost 20 percent, while the rate for Pennsylvania is 12.5 percent.
He said one of the best parts of being involved in Waste Not is seeing something real and knowing the volunteers are helping people.
“As Penn State students, we really don’t know what is going on in the community around us,” Davis said.
After filing all the documents and building the group’s website, the next step was recruiting other students to help out.
Davis took Waste Not to the involvement fair in the beginning of the fall semester but said most members heard about the club through word of mouth.
Though he said it has been a difficult process getting people to come to the bi-weekly meetings, Waste Not is looking to expand its service. The group plans to get into other initiatives, such as cooking for the residents, playing games with them and really getting to know them, Davis said.
Waste Not is also hoping to utilize Penn State’s student nutrition assistants to write recipes for packaged food at the State College Food Bank.
Davis said the plan is for the members of Waste Not to package up non-perishable food items, then deliver them to the nutrition assistants, where they will write a recipe card based on what is in the box.
“It’s basically so people who get the food know what to do with it,” Davis said. “Rather than just having a bunch of raw ingredients in front of them and going out to buy fast food.”
Waste Not is currently stable with about 10 drivers, but to make its future goals a reality, it needs more members, Davis said.
From where it was last year, though, Davis said the club has improved a lot. Getting an organization off the ground is hard, but everyone involved wants it to be a big affair, he said.
Though the club will miss Davis after he graduates at the end of the year, Rohrer-Dann said Davis has provided a solid foundation to make the club sustainable.
“He is doing exactly what a leader should be doing, which is not making himself indispensable but making sure the organization will continue to grow and fulfill his mission,” Rohrer-Dann said.
Penn State students are very advantaged, and the children and senior citizens at the shelters aren’t as fortunate, so Trapp said it’s important that groups like Waste Not remind the on- and off-campus community not to take their situations for granted.
“If you can take 30 minutes out of your day to help those who may not see food the next day, why not?” she said.
To Davis, many organizations on campus focus on more international problems — but he said he prefers to look closer to home.
“We strive to focus on the problems that lie within our community outside Penn State,” Davis said. “They need our support most.”