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Feeding the hungry on an empty stomach

Maurice Smith is fasting for lent, along with kicking off the fundraiser, Dine Out to Feed Spokane. (Dan Pelle)
Maurice Smith is fasting for lent, along with kicking off the fundraiser, Dine Out to Feed Spokane. (Dan Pelle)

Maurice Smith spends his days surrounded by food. He’s the executive director of Feed Spokane, an organization that collects leftover food from area restaurants and food businesses, then delivers the food to one of 40 meal sites in town. Smith usually has something edible in his car, and he’s known for passing out wrapped sandwiches to hungry people he meets on his daily travels.

Feed Spokane kicked off its annual fundraiser – Dine Out to Feed Spokane – Monday, with the Davenport Hotel’s restaurants, among many others.

Dine Out to Feed Spokane encourages people to dine at participating restaurants, which then give part of the proceeds to Feed Spokane.

And then there’s this: Smith is currently fasting.

“We could meet for lunch, but that wouldn’t be much fun for me,” he deadpans.

Recently, on the 10th day of his fast, which is dedicated to ending hunger in Spokane, he was feeling alright.

“It’s not my first time. Fasting has always been part of my own spiritual life,” said Smith, who is also fasting for Lent. “What’s somewhat uncomfortable is to put it on public display.”

Smith is posting daily on Feed Spokane’s Facebook page about his fasting experience.

“I find that it’s a constant scramble to keep hunger on the radar,” Smith said. “We are a generous community here in Spokane – what we need to do is keep the awareness of hunger out there.”

While fasting, Smith lives on V8 juice, water and the occasional small serving of tomato soup.

“When I get these terrible salt cravings I suck on a dill pickle,” Smith said. “You’d think I’m pregnant with all the pickles I go through.”

Yet fasting also reminds him of how Feed Spokane’s clients feel, and many of them don’t have a choice.

“I could go home tonight and decide to have dinner and my wife would be elated,” Smith said. “But lots of local families don’t have that choice – for many different reasons they can’t just decide to no longer go hungry.”

Dine Out to Feed Spokane began as a one-time fundraiser put on by the Greater Spokane Dietetic Association, but Smith said it was so successful it became an annual event.

Last year, Feed Spokane served 820,000 meals.

One meal site is the Parsons Apartments in downtown Spokane, where resident manager Ginny O’Bryen Edwards said the food means much more than nourishment.

“We have 50 apartments here and everyone who lives here is either elderly or disabled,” said O’Bryen Edwards. “It’s hard for these people, getting out and all that. Having the food here has really made a big difference.”

The food from Feed Spokane often arrives frozen, but the Parsons has a community room with an oven.

“We do meals there, and people come out to visit – they aren’t as isolated,” said O’Bryen Edwards.

She gets a list from Smith about available foods, then e-mails him back what she’d like to pick up.

“We have only been with Feed Spokane for three weeks, but it’s been great,” said O’Bryen Edwards. “We have gotten chicken patties and mashed potatoes and soups. We also got dessert pizzas – those went over really well.”

Last week, Smith spoke to a class at the Northwest Culinary Institute at Spokane Community College.

“It’s important for us to reach the people who will become the movers and shakers in the restaurant industry,” said Smith. “They will all have leftover food and most of it will go in the Dumpster at the end of the day, unless they know about us.”

Feed Spokane makes it easy for large kitchens to participate: Feed Spokane supplies food containers and volunteers pick up the food. One-time donations after receptions and office parties are welcome, as long as Feed Spokane knows in advance. There are close to 1,000 restaurants in Spokane, Smith said, and Feed Spokane has an ongoing working relationship with 25.

“Hey, there really is room for improvement here,” Smith said. “It would be very nice to have some more restaurants sign up.”

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