Dartmouth’s Excess Does Some Good

Sunday, July 06, 2014
Hanover — Dartmouth College’s campus was quiet early Friday morning as a silver sedan pulled up the dining hall’s back driveway and executed a turn so its trunk faced the loading dock. An abandoned bicycle rested on the lawn of the adjacent fraternity house, and there was no sound or movement visible inside, its occupants presumably enjoying 8 a.m. slumber.

Hopping out of the car, three students in shorts and white T-shirts entered the building and headed into a walk-in freezer. Although the previous evening had been the eve of the July 4 holiday, Adam Charnin-Aker, Sumner Kilmarx and Daniel Reitsch were alert and upbeat.

“We were in bed by nine last night,” cracked Charnin-Aker, a government major who’s also a pitcher on the Big Green baseball team. “We’re all serious students.”

The sophomore isn’t joking, however, when it comes to Dartmouth Feeding Neighbors, a small organization he founded earlier this year that has procured and transported more than a ton of leftover food from the college’s dining hall and local restaurants to the Upper Valley Haven. The Haven is a nonprofit organization in White River Junction that provides emergency shelter, food, clothing and educational programming to those in need.

During Dartmouth’s 10-week spring term, Charnin-Aker’s group used tri-weekly deliveries to bring more than 2,200 pounds of food to the Haven, where it’s gladly accepted and quickly consumed.

On Friday, Michael Brand, a shelter staff member, let the three students inside, weighed their 52 pounds of food and placed it in refrigerators. Among the donations were green bean salad, chicken parmesan, a mixture of cooked potatoes and tomatoes and spicy bacon.

Brand said some of it would be eaten later that day during an Independence Day get-together at the Haven’s men’s shelter and the rest distributed to families on Monday.

“It goes out as fast as it comes in and it gets chowed down,” said Brand, who’s worked at the Haven for four years. “It’s disturbing how bad the need is. Dartmouth is so good to this place. It’s quite a partnership.”

Charnin-Aker, who hails from the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Ariz., got the idea to found his organization last summer. On campus to make up classes he’d missed because of a baseball injury, he perused a database of local internships and landed one with the Upper Valley Housing Coalition. Through that work, he discovered the Haven and met some of its clients. A grim realization came over him.

“It made me see that people were choosing to pay rent over food for their children,” Charnin-Aker said. “I started thinking about what I could do to help out.”

Last fall, Charnin-Aker went stopped at a local outlet of a national fast food chain near closing time. The cashier was about to lock up, but told him he was welcome to take a few items for free, because she was about to toss them in the trash.

“It just ticked me off so much that they were throwing out perfectly good food,” Charnin-Aker said. “That sparked it and in the winter, I went full out.”

Charnin-Aker met with David Newlove, the director of Dartmouth Dining Services, and persuaded him to donate certain types of leftover food. Newlove said DDS conducts more than 13,000 food transactions per day at various sites around campus, and that even the most careful tracking system can’t eliminate all waste.

Sales and consumption are affected by factors such as weather, concerts, sporting events and holidays, Newlove said. Donated food tends to be that which doesn’t store or reheat well or types that would be prone to freezer burn, such as pastas, pizzas, vegetables and rice.

“I thought Adam’s idea was outstanding,” Newlove said. “Other students had tried it before and dropped the ball, but Adam was adamant and he really has his act together.”

Jeff Hastings, a Hanover High graduate and former Olympic ski jumper, is now an Upper Valley businessman and equally impressed with Charnin-Aker’s drive and professionalism. Hastings had been thinking of a program along the same lines as the Dartmouth student’s and has helped him contact local restaurants and catering operations, which donate from time to time.

Among them are Everything But Anchovies, Murphy’s Tavern and 3 Guys Basement Barbecue, all in Hanover. A mobile food truck run by students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business also provides leftovers on occasion.

“Most people Adam’s age, if you email them, you may hear from them in a week,” Hastings said. “If I have an email out to him and he’s not back to me in an hour, I’m calling the Red Cross. He is so buttoned-up and organized. He not only has abilities in school and sports, but he gets stuff done outside of that.”

Charnin-Aker is the son of former Major League Baseball player and coach Jack Aker. One older brother played baseball at the University of Mississippi and another was an All-American swimmer at Stanford University. Adam’s NCAA Division I recruitment slowed when he suffered a severe arm injury as a high school senior, so he got into Dartmouth without the baseball program’s admissions assistance and walked on to the team.

After sitting out his freshman season because of another injury, Charnin-Aker appeared in five games this spring, starting four times and going 0-2 while posting a 6.75 earned-run average.

With classes and food donation duties, it was a busy but productive term. Assistance came from more than 30 fellow students who used an online spread sheet to sign up for deliveries, using their own cars.

Charnin-Aker said he’s mostly used emailings and word of mouth to let Dartmouth students know about his organization, and that members of his fraternity, Chi Heorot, and that of Kilmarx, Alpha Delta, have been particularly helpful.

“There are a lot of students who say they’d like to go out and help the community, but when you get down to it, it’s hard to find people willing to really make an impact,” Charnin-Aker said. “This has shown that when you can prove you’re helping somebody, there are great students here who want to contribute.”

Using online fundraising, Dartmouth Feeding Neighbors recently bought $1,200 worth of reusable plastic containers for food transport. It had been using disposable, aluminum pans, but that was costing the group $500 per term. Recruiting will also begin this fall with the hope of finding freshmen willing and able to take over for Charnin-Aker after he graduates in 2017.

The next and more immediate goal, however, is to bring Tuck’s dining hall and several more local restaurants into the donation mix.

Hunger “is a big problem with a simple solution in this case,” Charnin-Aker said. “Just let us come pick up food and it’s a win-win for everyone.

“This project has definitely been a defining thing in my life. It’s taken a lot of time, but it’s something I feel like should be done everywhere and not just here.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.

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