FAIRFIELD — This time last year, an on-campus shop gave two Sacred Heart University students free bagels, leftovers at the end of the day. The gesture sparked an idea that has diverted well over 500 pounds of bagels and pastries from a landfill fate to donation at a local shelter.
Learning many bagels had to be thrown out at the university-run Einstein Bros. Bagels in the Frank and Marisa Martire Business and Communications Center, and inspired by a French law prohibiting food waste from certain establishments, SHU seniors Brandon Gilliam and David Dechent-Robertin decided to formulate a local solution last February.
“That was the big thing,” Dechent-Robertin said, of learning the fate of leftover bagels, muffins, and cookies. “It was kind of the aha moment.”
In late March, the pair began picking up leftover bagels after closing time from the Einstein Bagels and bringing the food in a large plastic bin to Prospect House, an emergency shelter in Bridgeport.
“We’re blessed; we’re pretty lucky. We get to come to this really nice school, don’t have to really worry about being hungry or not having a roof over our head,” Dechent-Robertin said. “We have the time to help out.”
Both members of a local fraternity at SHU, Omega Phi Kappa, they organized the effort as Greek Life Gives. The intention was twofold — to show a positive side of the Greek community and mobilize a network Dechent-Robertin and Gilliam was already tapped into.
After the first month, members of other fraternities and sororities began signing up to transport and donate the leftover food. Four fraternities and two sororities regularly work with the now year-old organization, picking up the bagels and occasional other baked goods, packing them into a large marked bin each evening and transporting the food to Prospect House.
“That’s our structure, but we always want to express that anyone can help out,” Gilliam added.
Prospect House offers the bagels each morning, and Clinical Director for Prospect House Programs Cheryl Bell said donations like those from Greek Life Gives are why the shelter is able to offer all clients three meals a day.
“It is definitely a great benefit for us,” she said. “It’s greatly appreciated because not only does it provide part of a healthy meal that’s provided for breakfast in the morning for clients, it also helps us to offset budget costs for food.”
Greek Life Gives just hired two students as interns — neither involved in Greek life — and has worked with the university’s equestrian team, a business fraternity and a service fraternity. Community service chairs for Greek organizations will coordinate members to volunteer, often also offering required community service credit.
Chartwells, the catering service overseeing all on-campus dining facilities, and Einstein Bagels gave permission for the donation, with enthusiasm from Chartwells Marketing Director Kayla Hawley. University faculty and staff have also tossed support behind the student-run effort with cubicle space in the business and communications building and a van and driver from the campus ministry to transport delivery volunteers without cars.
With their current operation down to a science, the seniors see a local and national expansion on the horizon. At Sacred Heart, they hope to gain infrastructure to store and transport prepared food in addition to baked goods. The change would allow them to donate leftovers from other campus dining facilities and possibly extra food from on-campus events.
They hope to work with local business too, and one off-campus bagel shop has shown interest in making donations.
But the major goal now is official nonprofit status, which Gilliam and Dechent-Robertin believe could give them the ability to license chapters at schools across the nation. The Greek Life Gives founders would like to travel to other campuses to do training and set up chapters that would coordinate and transport donations from their campus or local eateries to nearby shelters.
Both seniors plan to stay involved with the organization they launched after receiving their diplomas this spring.
Dechent-Robertin, of Beacon, N.Y., plans to attend graduate school in New York City or Boston, where he will look to spread Greek Life Gives to nearby colleges. Gilliam, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is looking to go into marketing but continue co-managing overall operations. The two interns recently hired would take over the SHU chapter, the founders said.
Gilliam said the pair launched the effort to help and give back to a surrounding community in need. The building housing the bagel shop on SHU’s Fairfield campus is across the street from a welcome to Bridgeport sign.
Dechent-Robertin said if they had come up with the idea and not run with it, both would have regretted not doing good they could have done.
The project has also been a product of the seniors’ friendship. Though they lived just a couple rooms apart freshman year, Dechent-Robertin and Gilliam didn’t spend time together until they became Omega Phi Kappa fraternity brothers.
“It’s been a blast — a lot of work — but it’s been a blast,” Dechent-Robertin said. “I’m glad I get to do this with my best friend.”