Restaurants Unlikely To Donate To Local Food Pantries

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Struggling food pantries in Southeast Ohio will likely not be able to rely on restaurants to stock their shelves this holiday season.

Some Athens restaurant managers from businesses like Casa Nueva and Brenan's say they only buy as much food as they intend to sell, and do not budget pantry donations.

"We don't generally donate as a rule, and that goes back to us trying to keep our pars as lean as possible so we don't have that waste," said Thom Hirbe, food coordinator at Casa Nueva.

Cool Spot, an Athens County restaurant and convenience store, does donate food items to pantries and organizations, but a store manager said they do not donate to the same pantry on a regular basis in an effort to cater to as many pantries as possible. 

Even if a restaurant is willing to donate, not every food pantry in Athens County is able to accept fresh food donations. Ohio Department of Health regulations require the refrigeration of certain foods.

"Cold food should be kept below 41 [degrees] and hot food should be held at 135 [degrees]. Some of the pantries can accommodate those types of things, but some just do not have the depth and capacity for refrigerated and frozen food," said Adele Hanson, a public health sanitarian.

Hanson said the Friends and Neighbors food pantry in Lottridge has one of the largest refrigeration capacities in the region.

Despite its capability to hold fresh food items, a director at the pantry said they receive few, if any, fresh food donations. 

"Just for them to drop by and say 'Here. We have an extra box of something.' No. That doesn't happen very often," said Tia Benson-Palm, assistant director at Friends and Neighbors.

While most Athens restaurants do not purposefully make food donations to pantries, restaurants like Casa Nueva do donate extra food to local organizations when unforeseen circumstances strike.

"Particularly in cases when we've had power outages for more than 12 to 24 hours. It's got to go somewhere at that point. We can't use it. So we'll donate it to [Community Food Initiative]," said Hirbe.

Hirbe said the restaurant also donates about $200 of fresh food each month to organizations who ask for it.

The Athens County Food Pantry, the other major food pantry in the county, cannot receive perishable food items because it lacks the refrigerator and freezer space needed to accept fresh food.