Olive Garden leads fight against hunger

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Each day, Olive Garden restaurants nationwide harvest surplus, unserved food and donate it to a local organization. This nationwide effort has reached the local restaurant here in Meridian in an established partnership with Multi-County Community Service Agency.

A study released in 2017 found that 40 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children. That's over 10% of every household.

"Knowing that there are people in need and that we are a restaurant, we wanted to give back. So with that surplus food we wanted to make sure that it's being used and not discarded. So we go to the local food banks and donate our surplus food to the food banks," said local restaurant manager Phillip Gooch.

Every week, items such as high-quality meats, homemade sauces and soups, are stored and donated to the local non-profit. The food is not to be confused with leftovers. It's unused fresh food that is properly packaged and stored to stay fresh.

"Let's say we cook a little heavy that day. We'll make sure that it's nice and fresh and we'll freeze it down, cool it down. We'll make sure that it's at its peak freshness and safe to be edible, and then we'll bring it to our local food bank," said Gooch.

In the last 15 years, Olive Garden restaurants have donated more than 40 million pounds of food to nonprofits and food banks nationwide.

"It feels good to give back to the community. It's the holiday time. Everyone could use a little extra. It's just a really good program," said culinary professional Kalyn Knight.

Gooch says the meaning of this program goes beyond the act of giving.

"You know a lot of kids go hungry; that affects their grades. You have a lot of people that are down and out and they're hungry. It's nothing like a good meal to put in your body and make you feel good for that moment. So we're all about making people feel good for our company," said Gooch.

Impacting lives and establishing hope is the goal he wants to achieve.

"We saw the need. We like to fill that need and just want to be involved," said Gooch.

Since the inception of the program, the Meridian Olive Garden has donated more than 57,000 pounds of surplus food to nonprofits like MCCSA.