Being a college student, groceries tend to take up a good part of my budget, along with gas costs and other expenses unrelated to COA. I mean, sure, most of us do have a meal plan at the school, and most of us do enjoy TAB’s offerings on a daily basis, but that still leaves us with Saturdays and Sundays to experiment with our own food. Since most of us plan to eventually move off campus and become more independent, our grocery budgets become that much more important to us.

So what if I told you that there was a way to not only score a free dinner every week, but also to stock up on a variety of free groceries, meet interesting people from around town, and take part in an absolutely wonderful experience that will renew even the most world-weary cynic’s hope in humanity?

Well, you’d probably laugh at me and call me a liar, first of all. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that last term, I stumbled onto what could possibly be the greatest and most valuable free event in the history of ever, and it just so happens to take place every Thursday right in downtown Bar Harbor. I’m talking about Food For All, the community dinner at the Holy Redeemer church on Ledgelawn Avenue.

Food For All (FFA) is a program of Organic Recyclers, a nonprofit organization focused on reducing waste through education and service. But after what I’ve seen of the program, the word “recycling” comes across in a very wrong way. Recycling implies that the food has already been used once, which could hardly be further from the truth. All of the ingredients used in the community dinner are perfectly good - never spoiled, stale, or expired. A typical Thursday menu consists of a few meat dishes like beef, chicken, and pork, mashed or roasted potatoes, several kinds of soup and salad, and a dessert buffet loaded with everything from pies and cakes to cinnamon rolls and tiramisu. Attendees are also encouraged to look through a collection of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, and bread, and take whatever they want for later. All of it is delicious, and all of it is completely free.

More importantly, everything was acquired through modern gleaning. While doing research for my article, I was introduced to this practice through the man in charge, Chris Brown. Gleaning is basically gathering and using perfectly good food that would otherwise be thrown away or wasted by supermarkets and stores. The end result is an opportunity to bring people together for food, conversation, and music. At the center is Chris, who oversees the entire process with a small group of volunteers from the community.

In addition to organizing the event, Chris also does a good deal of the gleaning himself, and very kindly agreed to let me come along on one of his collection routes. We drove around Bar Harbor picking up food from Hannaford, local restaurants, and other businesses and organizations that have agreed to donate their unneeded products to FFA. In this way, the food is saved from going bad and being wasted, and is put to good use in the weekly dinner. During the drive, Chris explained that his long-term goal is to show the world the benefits of modern gleaning, and to prove that the vision of Organic Recyclers can be realized. He hopes to someday put the gleaned and rescued food to use as emergency rations and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), as well as fuel, compost, and animal feed.

As for me, I think this is one of the single best ideas for saving food and building community that I’ve ever come across, and it’s certainly something that COA students should know about. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and if you’re interested in learning how this works, please don’t hesitate to check out Food For All. The event runs on Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Holy Redeemer on Ledgelawn. Donations are accepted.