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November 7, 2017 > Daily Bowl unites community against hunger

Daily Bowl unites community against hunger

By David R. Newman

Paddy Iyer sits comfortably in front of his laptop, the scent of roasted coffee in the air. It is a familiar setting. For 11 years he was the owner of PaddyÕs Coffee House, a local favorite in Union CityÕs Old Alvarado district, where the community gathered to hear music, read poetry, and talk politics. But now he is on a different mission: to rescue produce that otherwise gets tossed and donate it to families in need. Iyer has named his new non-profit, Daily Bowl.

Iyer admits it was a difficult decision to close the doors of his coffee shop, but he was ready for a change. He had always been concerned about the large amount of wasted food in the hospitality industry, so when the time came, he began volunteering at the food pantry of Centre de Servicios. Established in 1974, Centro de Servicios is the oldest not-for-profit, social service agency in the Tri-City area.

Says Iyer, ÒI started networking with a lot of the food pantries and crisis shelters, and thatÕs when I found out that, yes, there is a problem.Ó He also found out through the school district that many children were coming to school hungry. Iyer realized that if he could pick up produce that was about to be thrown away and deliver it to the food pantries, he could possibly help solve the hunger problem in his small way. Daily Bowl was born.

With help from co-founder Lance Nishihara, a good friend and member of the New Haven School Board, Iyer converted his garage into operations central, mapping out their strategy. They began test runs in IyerÕs car, visiting neighborhood gardens, farmersÕ markets, and local grocery stores, gleaning any slightly damaged produce and transporting it to local food pantries. Iyer considers himself a broker, supplementing the efforts of organizations like the Alameda County Food Bank.

A big part of Daily BowlÕs mission is to help educate the public about food. Says Iyer, ÒAs a consumer, when you walk into a store, you expect the produce to be perfect in all shapes, sizes, and colors. If itÕs slightly bruised, you donÕt take it. So if the store canÕt sell it, they will toss it or compost it. ThereÕs nothing wrong with that produce Ð itÕs just slightly bruised. Imagine that low-income family that could use it. Just shave off a little bit of the bruise and itÕs perfectly edible.Ó

Iyer gives another example, ÒSay you have two-pound box of strawberries, and maybe thereÕs a strawberry on top that is aging. So now they have to throw the whole box out because you as the consumer wonÕt buy it. And even if you buy it, and you find some rotten fruit, then there goes the reputation of the store. ItÕs a vicious circle. As a consumer, you have to grow up. We need to learn to accept imperfections in our produce.Ó

Iyer also spends his time educating low-income families on how to cook certain vegetables that they may not be familiar with. For example, okra is a popular ingredient in many Asian and African-American dishes, but Latinos tend to shy away from it. Says Iyer, ÒI tell them how they can use it in a stew, or how to fry it up, etc.Ó

Daily Bowl is now two years old and has grown from one to ten members. Small and agile, they are extremely mobile with no office, doing everything on their phones. They have gone from recovering 5-10 pounds of produce per month to an average of 2,000 pounds per week from 10 donor agencies. They are always looking for more volunteers and for new store accounts. And monetary donations are always welcome.

Iyer is proud of what heÕs accomplished so far and is hopeful for the future. ÒItÕs a problem if I tell you my business is doing well. That means there is a lot of food waste and a large demand. If my business is not doing well, then I have succeeded.Ó

As Iyer sips on his drink, I ask him one last question about the transition from running a coffee house to running a non-profit. He laughs gleefully, ÒIf you talk to some people, both of them are non-profits.Ó

For more information, contact Paddy Iyer at (510) 599-6467 or paddy@dailybowl.org, or visit www.dailybowl.org.

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