Senior Stephen Ruff has watched mounds of food go to waste after breakfast, lunch and dinner at his fraternity house Phi Kappa Psi during his four years at USC.
He started taking note of the leftover food, and he realized that only 20 to 30 gentlemen would eat at the buffet-style meals meant for 100 fraternity members. So, after thinking about it and doodling late at night, Ruff created Greek Eats, a program that now delivers 150 meals a day to the St. Francis Center in downtown Los Angeles.
"There's a lot of food thrown away in the US, in every aspect, by restaurants, by families, by the school fraternities, and there's a stigma against donating the left over food," said Ruff. "Companies are afraid of the liability that it carries—so if somebody happens to get sick from the food that's donated. But it's a misconception really, because under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, there's zero liability to any food donation made in good will."
The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, protects you from liability when you donate to a non-profit organization.
The late-night doodle that started it all outlined Ruff's plan for Greek Eats.
"I drew a little car that said Greek Eats on the side of it, and I drew the row and downtown because downtown Los Angeles has one of the most concentrated and largest homeless populations in the US," Ruff said.
According to a study by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were 46,874 homeless people in LA in 2016, a 5.7 percent increase from 2015.
After some research, Ruff decided to pursue a partnership with one of the largest food distributors to the homeless population in Los Angeles, St. Francis Center, which happens to be only two miles away from Phi Kappa Psi. The center has provided relief and support to homeless and low-income Angelenos since 1972.
After discussions with St. Francis Center, Ruff searched for support from the university. He pitched the plan to USG and it was immediately approved. Greek Eats was granted $3,000 and the program launched just after spring break.
Greek Eats has donated around 2,000 meals in just five weeks.
"So what's really cool is the St. Francis Center closes at 3, and we bring over the food daily around 2:30 p.m. so a lot of these people wouldn't otherwise have dinner and they hadn't been having dinner," Ruff said. "So Greek Eats not only gives people about 150 meals a day, it not only gives people lunch every day, but also dinner that they would otherwise not have."
Ruff, along with active and new fraternity members, package the meals themselves every day. Ruff packages at least 50 meals a day. The hands-on factor of Greek Eats has given him and other members an experience unlike other philanthropic events typically hosted by the row.
"I think really that hands on experience, going and dropping it off, interacting with the people you're giving the meals to, sitting down socializing with them—I think that being really attached and close to what you're doing brings a huge sense of fulfillment and it's really the values were trying to bring to USC and specifically to our new members," Ruff said.
While Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and Ruff have worked to incorporate Greek Eats into their new member philanthropy program, they are still working to grow from just the eight fraternities currently involved. Ruff also hopes to someday include the entire row in the program, including sororities.
"We're not taking anything from you, it's more like a waste management service," he said. "We're taking things that would otherwise be thrown away. And giving it to people who need it. I think that houses should recognize this because they've been pretty hesitant to sign up. It's just really simple as signing the form."
Greek Eats has been looking to expand their program beyond the row. Ruff has been having conversations with Seeds and Lemonade. They are even looking to reach the rest of the country, with talks with the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of California, Los Angeles and Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at the University of Michigan.
For anyone looking to get involved, contact Stephen Ruff here.