Ben Simon, who is the founder of Food Recovery Network, had a dream to become a great football player, and when that failed he decided to put his efforts into something else. Junior year of high school he joined a club called the social action club. One day he decided to start a protest at his high school because of the genocide in Darfur. The protest worked, and this was his first step to his development of becoming a leader. He said, “If my protest worked then shit, what else can I do?”
When he attended the University of Maryland he tried to start a website called mymaryland.net. He invested $80,000 in it, but the effort was a failure. However, this did not stop him from trying to start something else. When he was sitting in the dining hall one day he noticed that all the extra food from that day was just being thrown away. Witnessing this sparked an idea, and he decided to do something about it.
He developed a program to take the leftover food to local shelters and created a way to get the food from point A to point B. This was the start to The Food Recovery Network. He wanted to start these efforts at other colleges too so he called up his friend from Brown University and soon people started talking. Now Food Recovery Network is working in 100 different colleges around the US.
This was one of the most interesting events I have attended so far this year. He made it fun and very informative. Here at Nichols we are trying to start the Food Recovery Network, and I decided to join the group of students who will be a part of it. We will take food from the dining hall at the end of the day and bring it to a shelter, possibly in Webster. As a freshman, I wanted to join so I could be a part of the college’s efforts to help the local communities. I am excited to see the progress in the next three and a half years. This is an extremely important program because, on average, there is so much food that goes to waste and there are 1 in 6 Americans that are hungry. Now we can do something about it.
It was mandatory for freshman to attend because of our Learning to Lead class. Ben talked to us about how to become a good leader and some characteristics of being a good leader. He discussed that to be a good leader you have to fail and that failing is not a bad thing. He used his examples of failure to prove his point. He could not become a football player because he hurt his shoulder and if that did not happen there probably wouldn’t be a Food Recovery Network. When he tried to start up the website mymaryland.net he failed, but he said he would not trade that for the world. “Embrace failure, fail forward,” he said.
On Tuesday night, October 22nd, more than 250 Nichols students jammed Daniels Auditorium where they heard the success story of Ben Simon, who shared how and why he created the Food Recovery Network–a revolutionary organization that transfers tons of unused food from almost 100 universities to local non-profits who serve the hungry.
Simon really lit a fire in the first year Nichols College students who are taking a new required course in leadership. Although expected to attend the event, the first year students flocked to Simon following his speech.
In his opening remarks, Simon noted that as much as 40% of food prepared in homes, restaurants, and institutions goes to waste while one in six Americans goes hungry. He passed around an oversized sweet potato to reinforce his point that 20% of fruits and vegetables never leave the farm because they may not look appealing to shoppers.
Simon explained that he and some college friends started the Food Recovery Network when they realized how much food was simply thrown away from the dining halls at the University of Maryland, where he graduated last spring. “We couldn’t believe this food was going to waste while so many people in the community were struggling with hunger,” he recalled.
In the first semester of operation, the Food Recovery Network donated 15,000 pounds of food to local organizations that distributed it to the hungry. Last year, the number of participating colleges jumped from 22 to 98. Over the past three years, the group has donated almost 500,000 pounds of food to participating organizations.
Simon’s vision is to double that number in 2015, and he hopes to start a chapter at Nichols–where leadership opportunities in community service abound. Speaking of leadership, Simon says…
- “One of the most important qualities of leadership is to be positive and resilient.”
- “No business ever springs to life without hitting challenges.” (Alluding to his own failed start-up of a social and political network early in his college career. That failure cost him and his backers–mostly family and friends–$80,000, he calculated.)
- “Embrace ‘epic fails’. It feels bad when your idea doesn’t work out but I wouldn’t have traded that experience for the world.”
His best advice: “Get started early. Throw yourself into something while you’re still a freshman. There’s a learning curve to leadership.”
Some colorful new stickers have appeared around the Nichols College campus since October 11. What the stickers signify is pretty important. The symbols, a ribbon with the Nichols green and a rainbow, represent SAFE ZONE, an initiative that brings together the Nichols College community and tolerance.
SAFE ZONE makes it known to anyone who is part of the LGBT community that there is an extra network here to support them. I spoke with the Dean of Students, PJ Boggio, about SAFE ZONE and how the whole campus is involved.
PJ wants everyone to know that when they see the SAFE ZONE stickers, they should be reassured that Nichols accepts everyone for who they are.
On October 10th, PJ emailed the whole campus explaining to everyone the concept and goal of SAFE ZONE. In her email, PJ shared the names of the 55 SAFE ZONE members, who were invited to take and post to social media “selfies” in front of the stickers they’d posted to the doors of their offices.
When I talked to PJ she said people are still trying to get onto the list. As a student, it’s great to see all the support from our faculty and staff.
Another thing we talked about was how just because a name is not on the list, doesn’t mean you can’t approach them with a question or if you need guidance. Many people at Nichols are 100% on board with SAFE ZONE, so students should feel comfortable discussing LGBT issues with anyone—regardless of whether or not they’re affiliated with SAFE ZONE.
With that openness in mind, PJ doesn’t want people to feel like they have to talk only to the faculty and staff on the SAFE ZONE list. Soon, almost every building at Nichols will have its own SAFE ZONE decal so all members of our community will feel welcomed wherever they are on campus.