Remarkable Women: Wichita Barista rescues 240,000 pounds of food headed for the landfill

Remarkable Women

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – What makes a woman remarkable?

If someone were to ask John Turner, he would reply with the adjectives ambitious, determined, and full of love; all words he uses to describe his mother Stephanie Merritt.

“She is a big inspiration to young women,” said Turner. “She has a big heart and she has a lot of love to give.”

Turner nominated his mother for the Remarkable Women award celebrating local women who inspire, lead and forge the way for other women. 

“I just opened up my email one day and got the notification for the Remarkable Women. I was like, ‘I know somebody who would qualify for that,'” he said.

Who is Stephanie Merritt?

Meritt is a mother of four, a barista, and the Executive Director and Founder of ICT Food Rescue.

When she is not working behind the counter at a Wichita Starbucks, she is volunteering for a mission much bigger than herself.

“Our mission is to distribute unavoidable food surplus sharing with the food insecure of Wichita, so we go out and find perfectly edible food that was otherwise going to go to our landfill, and instead we just reallocate it to individuals and organizations that need it.”

Meritt founded the nonprofit in 2016 after ‘rescuing food’ for a couple of years prior. She said the idea to change what society does with leftovers came from her own experiences.

“I was an individual who had to throw it away at a place I worked at,” Merrit explained. “I worked with a generation coming up, you know of young adults, and when they would ask me, ‘why do we have to throw it away?’ I just didn’t have a good answer anymore.”

Merritt returned to Wichita State University as a nontraditional student. She started studying food insecurity and homelessness. Her research on the topics took her across the United States

“Being on the coasts, I saw that they were doing food rescue there and that’s what was missing in Wichita, so it was kind of everything in the universe aligned and I said, ‘well, ok I can do this.”

How does ICT Food Rescue work?

Merritt has created a system connecting area businesses and restaurants with excess food to organizations that need it.

“Our donors are willing to donate the food surplus. They just don’t have a means to get it or the network to get it where it needs to go, so we just provide that as a free service to our donors and to our receiving agencies,” Merritt explained. “We have volunteers through a software program that log on and say they are available to do a food rescue and they go pick it up and they take it and drop it off.”

ICT Food Rescue does about 55 rescues each week. Merritt said she relies on about 25 volunteers to get the job done.

“Those volunteers that say I can commit to picking up this rescue every Sunday evening, they are the ones that make that happen on that mass scale,” she said.

Vyonis Guliford works for the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas. She is in charge of housing and feeding a couple dozen veterans in the Wichita area. She relies on Food Rescue ICT to get the job done.

“We provide three meals a day seven days a week and snacks where we can,” said Guliford. “It definitely helps us stretch the dollar as well as feed the belly.”

ICT Food Rescue’s Impact

2020
Pounds of food saved: 164,662
Meals saved: 130,551
Value saved: $268,203

2019
Pounds of food saved: 290,742
Meals saved: 242,285
Value saved: $503,935

2018
Pounds of food saved: 68,436
Meals saved: 57,030
Value saved: $118,394

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