July 29, 2013

Colby food service chief's efforts to eradicate child hunger awarded

Joe Klaus, one of six of the Sodexo Foundation's 2013 Heroes of Everyday Life, dedicates talents, time to getting food where it's needed most

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Joe Klaus, who oversees the food services at Colby College, says many Mainers go hungry despite widespread food surpluses.

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Hanne Teirney, left, with Corerstone and Fail Better Farms, offers organic produce to Noma Moyo, 21, a Colby College junior, right, and Joe Klaus, food services manager at Colby College, at the Waterville Farmers' Market at the Concourse on Thursday. Klaus, along with volunteer students, collect food from the farmer's market for distribution to local pantries.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Joe Klaus

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

"Having available food is not the issue. And when it comes to hungry people, the need is great," Klaus said Thursday. "The issue is connecting the dots."

One such unconnected dot came to Klaus three years ago, in the form of several thousand pounds of unsold potatoes sitting in a warehouse.

The warehouse was owned by Fedco, a Waterville-based co-op that every year sells about 400,000 pounds of seed potatoes along with seeds, bulbs and other supplies to growers.

Fedco coordinator David Shipman said the excess potatoes are used as animal feed if no one comes forward to put them to better use.

One member, Tom Roberts, who owns Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield and is a member of the Maine Harvest for Hunger, knew just what to do.

He called Klaus.

Klaus, a stocky man in a sports coat and button-down shirt with hints of gray showing at his temples, has two permanent reminders of what he says was an accident-prone boyhood.

The first is a faintly visible scar on his upper lip, caused by a mishap with an ax.

The second is his enduring passion for food, which he said he came to by way of an accident.

In this case, the accident was a bone-crunching tumble from the seat of a bicycle while on an ill-advised ride down a steep, grassy hill. In the weeks that followed, his movement limited by crutches, he spent long hours in the kitchen of his boyhood home, watching his grandmother cook.

That accident, and the resulting exposure to the importance of food, set Klaus on a course that brought him to his current position as operations manager of Colby's dining services, which is what made him the perfect person for Roberts to call about Fedco's potato problem.

When he got the call, Klaus and a co-worker drove to Fedco's warehouse, located in Clinton, and loaded the enormous pile of spuds into a box truck.

He then hauled them back to the Colby campus in Waterville and began calling the 25 or 30 local food pantries that he has worked with in similar situations. Some came to pick up their share of the bounty, while Klaus arranged for delivery to others. A dining services manager volunteered to fill his trunk with the potatoes to drive them to a pantry in Vassalboro.

In a matter of days, the potatoes had all been put to use, helping to feed people in need.

Meeting the hunger challenge

Getting the perishable potatoes to people who need them is just the sort of time-sensitive challenge Klaus faces on a daily basis in the dining halls of Colby.

If a light bulb goes out, if a food cart breaks off a piece of granite countertop, if thunderstorms kill the power to the freezers containing perishable food, Klaus gets the call, sometimes in the middle of the night.

In his 31 years with Sodexo, the company that provides Colby's dining services, he's dealt with disasters caused by fires, gas outages and blizzards. Once, while working at a new 40-bed Catholic hospital in Washington, D.C., a series of snowstorms shut down the city's public transportation system, forcing him to trek six miles to work, where he joined a skeleton crew supplemented by nuns from the adjoining convent in serving free food for the day to the hospital's snowbound workers.

That was a big challenge, but eliminating child hunger in the region is a much bigger one. Klaus has tackled it with all of his energy and talent, having directed 300,000 pounds of produce to food pantries as a member of Maine's Harvest for Hunger, one of the major players in combating hunger in the state.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Noma Moyo, 21, a Colby College junior, picks up fresh carrots from 100 Acre Farm, at the Waterville Farmers' Market at the Concourse on Thursday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Fred Nassar, right, with Eagleview Gardens and Haunted Trail Pumpkins in Winslow, offers produce to Colby College student Noma Moyo, 21, background, and Joe Klaus, left, at the Waterville Farmer's Market at the Concourse on Thursday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

 


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