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Tackling Grand Challenges: Creating a Sustainable Partnership Through Sustainable Actions

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By: Haley Paez, Undergraduate Student, Psychology & Journalism

Article  •
ACE Grant  •

During the 2019-2020 academic year, I was fortunate to be able to continue my community engagement for a second year with the help of DU Grand Challenges and an Advancing Community-Engaged (ACE) Student Scholarship Grant. In 2019, I began a nutrition education project with the Denver Rescue Mission (DRM) to mitigate the current divide between different socio-economic classes when it comes to nutrition. In Spring 2019, we created a cooking class that was offered to 16 families living at DRM’s The Crossing to provide information and resources related to healthy cooking options. The class and the associated recipe books were so successful that the DRM integrated the cooking class into their regular program. 

I am so thankful to have received the ACE Grant, which allowed me to expand my project and integrate composting into DRM. I was inspired to go in this direction because the University of Denver (DU) encourages us to reduce our carbon footprint and our waste. We have recycling and composting bins located school wide. As my life at DU and my life at the Denver Rescue Mission converged, I began to see how they can each learn from the other. As a volunteer at the DRM, I noticed the abundance of waste that accumulates there and saw the compost bins at school as the best method to redirect the trash away from landfills. The best part was integrating another community partner into my project. 

Scraps is a local composting company that works with residents and restaurants in Denver by collecting food scraps to turn into compost. Scraps provided us with bins and bags in order to properly store and collect compost. The DRM began with five 10-gallon buckets picked up by Scraps twice a week. According to feedback from Kevin Baker, Denver Food Services Manager at Denver Rescue Mission, the composting was so successful that the original plan was not sufficient to meet the need and the pick-up frequency was increased to three times a week. 

DRM accumulates a lot of trash throughout the day. Each day they estimated they threw away over 100 pounds of food prior to composting. Our composting began in March of 2020 with twice a week pick up through May. That equaled 1,200 gallons of composted food. Then, from June until the trial run’s end period of December, the compost is expected to equate to about 4,200 pounds. In total, we should have redirected around 5,400 gallons of food which is about 45,090 pounds of food being composted and used to nourish the planet. Therefore, our work to reduce this number has been able to reduce their ecological footprint substantially. 

The best part of the entire project is seeing the positive response from the DRM. Chefs and employees are trying to find ways to improve their ability to compost more. Donors and volunteers alike are thrilled to see the DRM doing its part to reduce waste. DRM kitchen staff are instructing volunteers and guests on what is permitted in the bins. Kevin Baker commented on the immediate impact the composting program has already made: “Our Donors and Volunteers LOVE the fact that we have this program.  We get this comment daily. (Also), the chefs have gotten use to the program and really like it.” In talking with Scraps to assess their perspective on the arrangement, they commented about how kind and inspired the folks at the DRM are when they come pick up the compost. It really rallies a community together when we can all see that our actions can have a positive effect on many lives beyond just our own. The power of this initiative is continuing to build as my most recent conversation with the food service manager, Kevin Baker, discussed budgeting in a way to sustain this project even after the 10 months period with their own internal funds.