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Nonprofit looks to ‘rescue’ 1.5M meals in 2013

community plates

Jeff Schacher and Kevin Mullins, founders of Community Plates Inc.

In 2005, New Canaan resident and entrepreneur Jeff Schacher founded WhenToManage L.L.C., an online platform aimed at streamlining everyday tasks — such as employee scheduling and supply chain management — for restaurants, bars and events venues.

WhenToManage, which Schacher runs from an office in his home, has more than 750 clients, including national brands like Chili’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters and Dairy Queen, and has seen revenues double over the past year.

Through helping those clients to manage logistics and track their inventories, Schacher said he became aware of an enormous amount of food that would regularly be thrown out.

It led him and Norwalk resident Kevin Mullins to found Community Plates Inc., a nonprofit that works to connect food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters in need of donations with restaurants, grocery stores, markets and other food providers.

“What are we good at? We’re good at building web apps to assist with complicated inventory-related tasks,” Schacher said. In the case of organizations that feed the needy, “We said, ‘What if it’s just a problem of getting supply to the demand?’”

The business partners launched Community Plates after achieving 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in January of 2011, and began “food rescues” in May of that year.

Today, Community Plates has expanded its efforts from Fairfield County to Albuquerque, N.M., and Columbus, Ohio, with plans to have a presence in another dozen markets by 2014.

The grassroots organization works with nearly 50 food donors, ranging from national grocery store chains to regional farmers markets and restaurants, and more than 20 clients, such as food pantries and soup kitchens.

With the help of more than 300 active volunteers who shuttle donated food items to Community Plates’ clients, the nonprofit helps provide 85,000 meals a month, including 60,000 to 70,000 meals a month in Fairfield County.

“Our goal for 2013 is to rescue around one and a half million meals,” said Mullins, who serves as executive director of Community Plates, whose operations are also run from Schacher’s home. “It has been exciting to watch, for sure.”

The organization’s success can be traced to the efforts of its volunteers and to the same software that was used to launch WhenToManage, Schacher said.

Often with food shortages, “It’s not a problem of food, it’s a problem of logistics,” said Schacher, who serves as chairman of Community Plates.

He and Mullins said the software platform enables them to track all donations, deliveries and volunteers to maximize efficiencies and to see where more is needed.

“Really up and down the food chain there’s waste throughout the system,” Mullins said. “Maybe 50 percent of the food that’s produced for us gets wasted.”

Through the platform, all food pickups and dropoffs are scheduled in advance, with volunteers signing up to transport the excess food supplies from a donor to the destination.

“We have so much great data. We’re really excited about the information and the story that the data tells,” Schacher said.

With the help of the volunteers and the software platform, Mullins said, Community Plates has almost no overhead. “Community Plates is a grassroots organization,” he said.

Mullins added that the software enables Community Plates to function just like any other business.

“Running a nonprofit like a traditional business that’s profit-oriented — that’s what the metrics allow us to do,” he said. “Every number matters and paying attention to all those numbers is pivotal.”

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Patrick Gallagher

Bio: Fairfield County Bureau Chief Staff Reporter Westchester County Business Journal Covers: Economy, energy, government, infrastructure and public works projects, law, media, technology Phone: (914) 694-3600, ext. 3017

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