KAF aims to launch program to feed injured cyclists

  • Volunteers needed to help organize and lead program to feed negligently injured cyclists and a separate bicycle pickup and delivery service
  • Pilot project provided food to four negligently injured cyclists

  • Lenore Shefman, aka CyclistsLaw Attorney, pledges financial support for official program

  • E-mail keepaustinfed@gmail.com describing why you’re a good fit


When Nathan Main got on his fixie on June 1, 2013, he didn’t expect he’d suddenly be out of work for several weeks. He also didn’t expect the minivan he was trailing to come to a sudden stop. It happened right as Nathan looked down to adjust his pedal straps. When he looked up, it was too late.

A drainage tube protrudes from Nathan Main's neck following a crash with a car that unexpectedly stopped.

A drainage tube protrudes from Nathan Main’s neck following a crash with a car that unexpectedly stopped.

The impact was so forceful, Nathan’s head went through the rear window, slicing open his check from the corner of his mouth to the base of his ear, nearly severing his jugular vein. The driver, a former cycle track racer, applied pressure to the wound until help arrived, saving Nathan’s life.

Jenn Yager was hit from behind on Dec. 9, 2012 when a driver swerved to miss a cardboard box and plowed into a pair of cyclists at an estimated 80 mph. The impact sent her tumbling into the shoulder of Parmer Lane. Jenn’s massive injuries included a shattered pelvis, multiple broken leg bones, fractured neck vertebrae, and brain damage.

On Feb. 27 — 14 months after the crash — surgeons continued to reconstruct Jenn’s left leg by rerouting a tendon to repair foot drop, difficulty raising the front part of the foot.

During part of the healing process, Nathan and Jenn benefited from a pilot project from nonprofit Keep Austin Fed. Volunteers packed donated healthy meals from Snap Kitchen into Styrofoam coolers, and drove them to Nathan, Jenn, and two others who prefer to remain anonymous.

A few minutes before the crash, Jenn posed for a photo on the shoulder of Parmer Lane.

Minutes before the crash, Jenn posed for a photo on a 10-foot wide section of Parmer Lane’s shoulder.

The volunteer-based organization coordinates the pickup of perfectly edible surplus food from commercial kitchens that would otherwise be thrown in the trash and distributes it to charitable organizations that help feed hungry people in need. Donors include Trader Joe’s, Wheatsville Food Co-op, and Snap Kitchen with such places as SafePlace, Caritas of Austin, and Foundation Communities receiving the rescued fresh produce, prepared meals, and bread.

“It was a life saver,” Nathan said. “I couldn’t work and there wasn’t any food. Getting those meals made all the difference.”


Cycling connects leaders

In early 2004, Keep Austin Fed founder Randy Rosens attended a fundraiser at Laguna Gloria as a volunteer. At the end of the night when he realized it would be thrown away, he gathered the food that was left over and took it to a group of women and children living at a shelter in South Austin.

Joseph, Randy, and Ira rode their bikes to the Rally Against Hunger at the capitol in May 2013.

From left, Joseph de Leon, Randy Rosens, and Ira Kaplan rode their bikes to the Rally Against Hunger at the capitol in May 2013.

Randy picked the name Keep Austin Fed because it was catchy and he thought it perfectly described his mission: to organize volunteers who make sure hungry people in need got to eat perfectly good food that would otherwise wind up in the landfill.

When Randy left Austin for Port Townsend, Wash. in late 2009, his longtime friend and informal cycling coach, Ira Kaplan, took over. Back then, a handful of mutual friends made sure donations from Mandola’s Italian, Upper Crust Bakery, Pizza Nizza, and Kerbey Lane Café got picked up. The food usually went to SafePlace, Posada Esperanza, Casa Marianella, or Easter Seals of Central Texas.

I answered a Craigslist ad in April 2012 for bike parts and met Ira. We became quick friends, and before long, Ira asked if I’d be interested in helping pick up surplus food. I was hooked, picking up three or four times every week.

About a month later, Ira announced he would be going on an extended bicycle tour through Colorado and California. He asked if I would mind the pickups while he was away. After repeatedly asking friends and coworkers for help, a few signed up, but with daily pickups, I needed more help. That’s when I made a Facebook page for Keep Austin Fed.

That kicked off a series of events that resulted in explosive growth. Keep Austin Fed now has more than 40 weekly pickups, more than 130 volunteers signed up, and food deliveries to more than 20 drop-off sites.


Pilot program begins

In early 2013, I reached out to an injured cyclist who made a public plea for help after being seriously injured in a crash. The idea to help injured cyclists had been forming for months, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off while juggling a full-time job, family life, and a nonprofit that kept growing.

Styrofoam containers sit in Snap Kitchen's walk-in cooler ready for use.

Styrofoam containers sit in Snap Kitchen’s walk-in cooler ready for Keep Austin Fed volunteers to use.

There was a bigger problem: liability. Keep Austin Fed operates under food donor protection acts, which shield donors and volunteers from civil or criminal liability related to the condition of the food, unless an injury or death is caused by gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct.

In other words, if someone gets sick from the donated food, the volunteer transporting the food (and the restaurant donating it) is not held liable unless they purposefully, carelessly, or knowingly caused the food to spoil while it was in their possession. Following safe food handling procedures takes care of that.

As I understand it, that liability protection only applies to food that’s donated to a charitable organization that serves people in need. If a volunteer takes a food donation to an individual, I believe there’s no liability protection.

That’s because the charitable organization serves as a buffer for spoiled food. Before food is given to clients, staff are supposed to screen it  and the organization assumes liability for what’s served out to their clients.

With the pilot program, I had to be willing to personally accept liability. Why would anyone sue me if I’m bringing them free food? I hoped they wouldn’t, but if some yahoo brought your family member poisoned food, how would you react?

Ira and I personally did each of the food runs to injured cyclists so as not to expose Keep Austin Fed volunteers to any risk of a lawsuit. It was difficult for us to do regular drop offs to injured cyclists because we were always short on time and the nature of the injuries meant the cyclists themselves couldn’t help pickup. Sometimes their loved ones helped, but it wasn’t enough for a smooth operation.

Plus, Keep Austin Fed duties kept multiplying: writing a volunteer handbook, tracking donations, managing volunteers, donors, and recipients. In December 2013, we decided to end the pilot project because we didn’t have a reliable way to get food to injured cyclists and we didn’t have an answer to the liability problem.

The pilot stalled out after I unsuccessfully reached out to volunteers and several nonprofit organizations for help.


Hope for launching project

Before the pilot project ended, it caught the attention of Lenore Sheffman, a.k.a. CyclistLaw Attorney. She donated $1,000 to Keep Austin Fed’s general fund to make sure we could continue operating. Lenore also pledged ongoing financial support for when Keep Austin Fed launches the official version of the project to help feed negligently injured Austin cyclists.

cyclist law attorney Lenore ShefmanIn late 2013, I tried to get another bicycling component launched: pickups and deliveries of food via bicycle donated in the downtown area. It was bad timing — the weather was changing, and I kept getting pulled away to manage more pressing Keep Austin Fed developments.

Keep Austin Fed needs help turning that 8-month pilot into a full-fledged program that helps get healthy food to cyclists recovering from injuries they sustained because of someone else’s negligence. We’d also love for someone or a team of cyclists to help us launch a bicycle pickup and delivery service. The two programs might be related or totally independent of each other.

We’re looking for people to help us define the cycling program’s mission, determine an intake process for injured cyclists, recruit volunteers, promote the effort before we launch, and keep things running. Food runners; data entry; graphics, web, and social media producers, as well as pretty much any other kind of volunteer associated with keeping a nonprofit running, are also needed.

Send a message to keepaustinfed@gmail.com describing why you’d be a good fit to help us launch a cycling program and our leadership team will organize a way to get started.

Together we can Keep Austin Fed.


Joseph M. de Leon serves as Keep Austin Fed’s operations director.

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