Arlan Preblud is worth his salt—and then some. An attorney by trade, Preblud founded and acts as executive director of We Don’t Waste. His grassroots nonprofit collects leftover, commercially prepared food and delivers it to Denver agencies serving people who are hungry. “There’s a tremendous problem with hunger in this country,” he says.
A Gap in What’s Available
He and his wife, Leigh Sinclair, frequently volunteered at Denver community agencies that provided nourishment for people in need. That whet Preblud’s appetite for more service to hungry people. “We helped cook meals at Christmas and Thanksgiving for clients,” Preblud says. “But I noticed a gap in what was available. Food is one of the major necessities. People can usually find a place to find a place to put their head, but they can’t always find something to eat.” Without adequate sustenance, Preblud points out, not much is humanly possible. “To achieve any kind of goal, people need to eat and fulfill their basic needs of nutrition,” he says. “We have to recognize this.”
Preblud reports that about 40 percent of food generated in the U.S. ends up in landfills: “That’s a disgusting figure.” In logical fashion, the lawyer questioned restaurateurs, chefs, restaurant managers and caterers about what they do with leftover food. Then Preblud inquired of community agencies whether they would accept donated food. Their answer was always “yes.” Preblud cooked up a plan. His sons, Kevin Preblud and Bill Sinclair, helped him set up a website. In September 2009, Preblud folded down the seats of his Volvo station wagon, spread tarps, and began picking up and delivering food. “In the first three months, we delivered 250,000 servings of food. We’ve delivered more than three million servings of food, and we continue to grow each year,” he says. “We’ve saved about 470 tons of food from landfills. And food in landfills is one of the largest creators of methane gas, which does not help our environment.”
People on the Edge
We Don’t Waste now serves almost 50 different community-based agencies including shelters for runaway kids, people who are homeless, or women suffering domestic abuse. “People coming to these agencies often are the working poor. These are people on the edge. No matter what the unemployment rate is, there’s always a group of people unable to meet all their basic needs,” Preblud says. “We’ve had an influx of people trying to regain stability, and we have an obligation to reach out and help them, give them a boost up, an opportunity to strive to achieve a level of security and have some self esteem.”
We Don’t Waste is a carefully calibrated operation staffed by just two full-time and one part-time people. Scott VanDaele serves director of operations. Staff includes an assistant, a part-time grant writer; and almost 200 volunteers help each year. “We sit on a stool with three legs: reliability, credibility and visibility,” Prebud says.
One Step Away
While practicing law, Preblud represented down-and-out people and worked in domestic relations court where he encountered the effects of poverty. “I also understood that any one of us is just one step away from being in a position where we may be homeless or not have sufficient funds to buy food,” he says. Preblud emphasizes that We Don’t Waste augments agencies’ food supply, thereby reducing food budgets by 10 to 15 percent annually. “That allows agencies to use funds in other programs offered to clients,” he says. We Don’t Waste is making sure even more good food gets eaten. “We’ve moved to another tier of operation with food producers like Mile High Foods and Boulder Brands, and that has a tremendous impact. And we got a 14’ refrigerated box truck so we can gather greater quantities.”
As an attorney, Preblud is quick to underscore that federal and state Good Samaritan laws protect his operation and food providers in the event of any food contamination. “So long as food is properly maintained and integrity maintained, there’s no liability,” he says. “We work hard, and constantly watch food that comes back from an event.”
Grants from the Anschutz Foundation and Wal-Mart have helped fund We Don’t Waste. And an upcoming fundraiser will generate monies to keep the bounty flowing. “I encourage people to go to our website to purchase tickets to our fundraiser,” Preblud says. “We appreciate the tremendous support from the community, corporations and foundations. We’re looking for more opportunities to serve more people. More food is available. We know there are many more agencies we can serve, but we have to build our financial framework to do that.”
A black tie fundraiser for We Don’t Waste will take place September 10 at Denver Botanic Gardens. Tickets are on sale now, and the event sold out in 2013. For more details log on to www.wedontwaste.org or call 720-443-3668.
BIO: Colleen Smith is the author of Glass Halo and Laid-Back Skier and is directing her first documentary film. She's a longtime contributor to the magazine.