I held my first food drive in a series of very occasional food drives today. It was amazing and rewarding! It also gave me some great insights into vacationers and food donations.
The upshot: In two hours on a Saturday morning at checkout time at the Reef Club condos (which has many short-term rental units) in Indian Rocks Beach, I collected about 35 bags of unopened food and beverages, including perishables. (Thank you to the wonderful volunteers at St. Jerome’s Lifeline Food Pantry in Largo for allowing perishables, which they usually don’t.) Donations included produce, snack foods, sodas, cheese, hot dogs, bacon, eggs, bread, condiments, and so much more. Not everyone checks out on the same day, so these departing travelers were random.
The downside: All those donations came from about a dozen people. That’s an average of 3 bags per person! That opened my eyes in a very real way to the tremendous amount of food thrown out *EVERY DAY* in our area’s thousands of short-term rentals. Indian Rocks Beach alone has more than 1,200 short-term rentals, and we’re just a small community in a much larger coastal area. To say that I made a dent in that would be laughable, but it also wasn’t nothing.
Here are my observations:
* Most vacationers, despite me having fliers all over the building for 5 days, didn’t know I’d be there. I stationed myself between the elevators and the parking lot where they couldn’t miss me.
* Everyone, to a person, was THRILLED to donate. They were thankful, appreciative, complimentary and said what a GREAT IDEA this was.
* Other guests I spoke to who were not departing today were disappointed to hear that this was a one-time effort. I told them how close the IRB pantry was (7 short blocks away!), how they can donate 24/7 and how my website (QR code in view) has all the info on donating food and items. I’m pretty sure they won’t make the effort. Not because they don’t care but because they’re on vacation and it’s not their habit.
* Two big bags of food came directly from one of the cleaners. I keep hearing “leave your food for the cleaner.” Here’s are my two stock answers: Cleaners typically don’t want all that food nor do they have a place to keep it, and pantries are set up to distribute food to those most in need. In my mind “leave it for the cleaner” is a copout.
Here’s what I believe has to happen to address food waste in short-term rentals:
* Work with pantries to have them accept more perishable goods. I know this is more difficult, but it’s also possible and important.
* Vacationers will donate food only if it is super-duper easy for them. For instance, I had fliers up about today’s drive at an even bigger condo just a one-minute walk away and posted it wide on a huge Facebook group tourists and property owners and managers see. No one outside of the Reef Club came. (I didn’t expect them to, but I was curious.) I hope to do my next action at that bigger condo next month!
* Owners, property managers and rental platforms must have a real desire to see this happen and do what they can to facilitate it. The process can even start at the beginning — at the city’s rental business licensing stage. But that would only work in a community that has truly committed to low waste.
* Condos can help tremendously by having food donation bins in their lobbies. Many of our rentals are individual homes, but we also have many condo rentals with common areas. That means someone will need to get the food to the pantry.
* As for the single-family homes that are rentals, a “block captain” could facilitate food donations by having a bin on their property. That means getting the word out and getting the food to the pantry.
* Some vacationers will seek out food donation sources, but not many. Still, they could ask the owners/managers what their food waste policies are. The more that “recycling, repurposing and donating” becomes a demand of travelers, the likelier that owners will meet this demand.
* Food pantries, if they have enough volunteers, could hold the same kind of drives I held. Another option is to have a very visible drive on a main thoroughfare (ours is Gulf Boulevard) at strategic checkout times and advertise the heck out of it (that’s what an NC nonprofit does). Of course, all these options need more people helping out. I’ve tried to keep the Vacation Donations model “volunteer-lite” out of necessity, but it takes a village to really tackle food waste!
Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear them!