Co-founders of the Princeton-based non-profit “Share My Meals” Stanislas Berteloot from France and Isabelle Lambotte from Belgium have a winning formula how to feed the hungry and keep surplus food out of landfills.

The debate on how to reduce food waste has been a longstanding one in France and across Europe, but it typically shipwrecks on the shores of bureaucracy. Too much red tape blocks the efficient redistribution of surplus food from restaurants or canteens to those in need, resulting in perfectly good, prepared food going to landfills. However, pragmatic as ever, the USA sets a shining example of how personal initiatives can stop that vicious cycle – not by massive government-led initiatives but by citizen engagement. At the forefront of one such private programme, Share My Meals, are two European expats: Brittany-born Stanislas Berteloot, a former journalist-turned-marketing strategist, and Isabelle Lambotte from Belgium, a leader in the humanitarian field with an impressive track record and prestigious awards under her belt . The two friends now live in Princeton, New Jersey, and together with an international team, their shared goal is to contribute positively to their community.

Isabelle and Stan - photo © Tamara Gillan

Regular RIVIERA BUZZ readers already know Stan from a previous article about his podcast Back in America, examining cultural differences and digging deeper into the social fabric the United States are made of. In the interview he granted us back then, he already brought up Share My Meals, showing just how close to his heart this charity is.

We were curious to find out more about this timely initiative and had a conversation with Stan Berteloot. He left France in August 2016 when his wife Chantal had the opportunity to pursue a senior management career opportunity stateside. While securing a stable situation for himself as an independent consultant in his new hometown of Princeton, New Jersey, Stan realised that while 40% of food is wasted, many residents were affected by food insecurity, even in this apparently affluent college town. Then, in 2019, his daughter Hermeline, 13 years old at the time, started advocating for environmental issues … and then the penny dropped in Stan’s head: there were indeed viable ways to combine two socially highly relevant issues and channel them in one good initiative for the community.

Share My Meals stats

Source: Share My Meals website

Meanwhile, Isabelle Lambotte had already started working on the Share My Meals concept and had brought together a small team of passionate volunteer. She needed help with marketing and soon realised that to make it work, IT and logistic challenges had to be tackled. Stan answered Isabelle’s call for help, and before long, the two joined forces. The concept was simple and straightforward: canteens, business or school cafeterias, and restaurants donate their untouched leftovers to Share My Meals, which are then distributed by volunteers to families and non-profits in need.

What started as an ambitious idea, has now become indispensable both for local low-income citizens and waste management. Almost a quarter million meals have been distributed in four years, while keeping 37 metric tons (42 US tons) of food waste out of landfills. But along with the usual hurdles any start-up has to overcome, this project – launched in January 2020 – was instantly put to a particularly gruesome test: The global pandemic hit and threw a wrench in the system. All of a sudden, the envisaged concept – still in its infancy and not yet fireproofed – threatened to fall apart. The team was forced to think quickly on its feet and reinvent the mission. And it came through valiantly, engaging four local restaurants to cook for them. In addition to bringing food to those who really needed it more than ever, it also meant keeping the restaurant staff in bread and butter.

To deal with the avalanche of logistic detail, from coordinating both food donors and volunteers at any given moment, to picking up the food, distributing it within the legally required timeframe of three hours, considering dietary requirements, and other determining factors to ensure food availability, safety and hygiene, Stan reached deep in his professional experience in the tech industry and bundled nine different web-based apps, resulting in what was later called a Safety-Tracking-Allocation-Navigation programme, or STAN for short.

As a non-profit organization, Share My Meals relies primarily on in-kind donations from the community, such as the 53 food providers, but also gladly accepts support from partners like corporations who help with IT logistics, manpower, and financial contributions. Churches, the YMCA, and other community-adjacent pillars do their part in spreading the word, signaling families in need, and helping with the distribution. Everything is based on an honour system, no-one has to prove their eligibility. “What I have noticed in the U.S. was that there are many working poor, emphasis on “working”. Most low-income household providers work two shifts or three jobs to keep the family afloat and pay the bills. Few of them have the luxury of time to go grocery-shopping or to cook for their family. This way, they have access to ready-made healthy meals,” Stan explains. Nutritious meals also means an improved lifestyle, away from cheap, fat-, carb-, and calorie-laden fast food.

Today the non-profit is a role model for any such projects in its space, in the USA and elsewhere. Just four years into its existence, the statistics are more than impressive:

– Expanded from Princeton, NJ, into four other locations in New Jersey
– 53 food donors
– 61,665 meals recovered in 2023
– 245,000 meals delivered overall since Jan 2020
– 1,200 people served weekly
– 83,300 lbs of food diverted from landfill
– 100 active volunteers

In an additional Harvest Recovery Program, Share My Meals partners with local farms to collect surplus produce. Volunteers help pick, sort, and bag the produce and then deliver it to families in need.

Asked what the 2024 goals were, Stan shares that buying a refrigerated truck to keep food safe was on the top of SMM’s list. To that end, he hosts a fundraiser on February 8.

Another main objective is to expand this local initiative to other states throughout the USA. A franchise system to replicate SSM’s success outside New Jersey will soon be in place for those interested.

The U.S. support system is quite different from the European one where governments are expected to step in and assist their citizens. In the U.S., people value self-sufficiency and independence and tend to keep the federal government as far as possible from their personal life. Charities have been expected to provide for those in need. What I’ve experienced with Share My Meals proves to be true throughout the U.S.: these non-profits create strong bonds by bringing the local community together. People feel empowered to make a difference. They get to know each other and feel a sense of pride for the place they live in because they are contributing to building it.”
— Stanislas Berteloot

Those who wish to support Share My Meals with a financial donations, can securely pledge an amount of their choice here. And if you’re interested in replicating this model in France, feel free to contact Stan to chat about it.

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All images courtesy Share My Meals, copyright as marked

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