At the heart of Keep Austin Fed is an aspiration not only to prevent surplus food from entering the waste stream by delivering it to our hungry neighbors, but to deliver that food safely. And we are incredibly fortunate to have volunteer Bill Fry on board, ensuring our organization does just that.
After spending 26 years working in food safety and quality assurance for H-E-B Grocery Stores, Bill undoubtedly knows food. “I’ve been in food science all my life,” he says, “I’ve learned to cook pretty well, and I’m just a food-involved person.”
After growing up in northeastern Ohio, Bill was recruited by H-E-B in 1979, just as the grocery chain was starting to grow rapidly. Realizing the need for more sophisticated food safety systems, he played a major role in building a comprehensive quality assurance system – almost from scratch, Bill laughs – which covered all five manufacturing plants as well as each H-E-B store. After retiring, Bill remembers looking for food-related volunteer opportunities after being inspired by the documentary ‘A Place at the Table’. After a brief stint delivering for Meals on Wheels, Bill came across an article about Keep Austin Fed in the Austin American-Statesman, and knew he’d found a volunteer home.
“The thought of hungry people just drives me crazy,” he declares. “I’d like to have them all over for dinner, but it’s just not possible. When we deliver food to people, it’s so impactful!” Bill remembers the call from Trader Joe’s earlier this year, after the store’s refrigerator had gone down and a huge amount of food needed to be rescued. He speaks with pride about the 40,000 pounds of food Keep Austin Fed kept out of the waste stream in the month of August. “And we’re only scratching the surface, it’s just incredible!” Bill exclaims. “In this country we throw away about 30-40% of the food we produce, and when we throw away that food we’re also throwing away the water used to grow it, the gas used to transport it and the energy used to distribute it.”
The passion Bill feels for the KAF mission is truly inspiring, and that passion, combined with his wealth of knowledge surrounding food safety, quality assurance, and systems integration, allows Keep Austin Fed to move forward with a big-picture plan to continue fighting hunger in our community.
“Feeding people is our number one thing,” Bill points out. “We want to use rescued, wholesome food as the way to relieve that hunger, but it doesn’t make sense to do that if the food isn’t safe. A lot of the people we serve aren’t in good health, so we have to make sure the food we transport to them is absolutely safe.” The first step, Bill explains, is ensuring volunteers are educated. Each KAF volunteer earns a food handler’s certificate from the City of Austin, and attends an orientation that explains their responsibilities and emphasizes the importance of following safety procedures when making a food run. For example, perishable food must be kept below 41°F at all times. “We pass out tags with instructions on how to keep food cold, and give our volunteers insulated containers and ice packs that they use on their runs,” Bill notes. In addition to temperature, another key factor in keeping food safe is time, volunteers deliver food directly from pickup to drop-off, using as little time as possible during transport. Bill notes that his normal food run from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf takes about 30 minutes. He explains that volunteers should also be conscious of contamination. “If food looks bad, smells bad, or is obviously not consumable, do not pick that stuff up,” Bill advises. “Ask yourself if you would eat the food you’re delivering. If the answer is no, just don’t pick it up.”
Bill’s expertise in the area of food safety has already proven to be a vital asset for Keep Austin Fed, and will continue to become even more valuable as the food rescue movement grows in Austin. But, he says, the impact his volunteer work has made on him personally is just as valuable. Bill, 71, tells volunteers, “You have to get involved in something that has meaning to you – something that you do to give. And that will keep you young.” He continues, “Looking at life from this end, it’s important that you make some kind of impact. At least it is for me. I’ve got time now… I don’t have to go to the office, or answer to anyone except my beautiful wife. So to create some meaning in your life? That’s the ‘why’. It’s exercise for the emotions.”