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A Unique Ecosystem Brings Food to the Hungry: What Do You Bring to the Table?

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What is an asset? In the financial world, assets are resources. Anything tangible or intangible that is owned or controlled to produce value is considered to be an asset. Real estate, stocks, bonds, jewelry or even pieces of art are the usual "powerful" assets that one thinks of individuals and families accumulating. But food as an asset? It turns out that food is one of the most powerful, and yet, under-leveraged, assets of all.

Most of us have attended concerts, sporting events, hotel conferences, and other large scale operations involving many people and, of course, involving lots of food! We walk away from these events after eating, drinking and being entertained . With our bellies full and our minds preoccupied, we go to sleep while millions of pounds of 'assets' in untouched, delicious food goes by way of the dumpster. We are talking good food, even rock star food, which may be trashed although untouched. For example, when a band appears at a venue like Madison Square Garden (MSG) a huge amount of food may be prepared for the band, its roadies, set-up team, concert-goers, etc. Frequently, much of it will remain uneaten at the end of the event. What happens to all of that the leftover food? Much of it may be fully-wrapped and and untouched. Aren't there homeless/hungry people congregating near or even inside MSG? Think about it: doesn't this happen every day at sports arenas, entertainment venues, colleges, hotels, etc? While this notion may seem very simple, there was no eco-system in place to help the food find the hungry people? Until Rock and Wrap It Up began! in 1994 by Syd Mandelbaum.

Hunger is something which Syd Mandelbaum has never known personally. But as the child of Holocaust survivors, it was something which was close to his heart. His parents spent their teen years years in concentration camps, constantly hungry. This became the engine behind Rock and Wrap It Up! Today, more than 5,000 team members in 500 cities in five countries, feed millions of hungry people. According to Syd, the most rewarding aspect is the program's sustainability. The sustainable aspect teaches others to reduce the planet's poverty footprint by reducing the society's carbon footprint. Just like teaching a man to fish will sustain someone for life, Syd's mission is to teach and create advocacy initiatives so that the program continues to grow far and wide to reduce poverty. One of his group's proudest moments was drafting, introducing and the eventual, unanimous passing of the Federal Food Recovery Act in 2008. The Act encourages federal buildings to donate food from their restaurants and outside events to reduce the nation's hungry.

Although his professional accomplishments are too numerous to mention for this piece (scientific and sports breakthroughs, DNA forensic testing, etc) Syd's anti-poverty work began on a small scale working with his friends and family at soup kitchens. One day, he was offered the "rock-star" leftovers from a concert at Jones Beach Theater. As a scientist, he immediately recognized the power of creating an eco-system to recover food and deliver it to the people who needed it. This led to a much larger scale program whereby Syd and others could address poverty and hunger in America by working with bands and the venues in which they played. He recognized the science of re-purposing and distribution. He helped the food find the hungry people in a sustainable way. His team began to recover uneaten and untouched food and re-distribute it to America's poor and hungry! Rock and Wrap It Up was born.

While the roots were first formed by relationships with rock-n-roll bands and their venues, food recovery teams extended their re-distribution and green work by involving sports arenas, hotels, college campuses and film shoots. Once hotel chains became involved, other assets such as toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, etc could also be harvested and re-delivered locally through the same infrastructure.

Syd's work grew to an awesome and diverse group of board members who each added their own unique touch. For example, Leslie Leventman of MTV and John Kluge, Jr. have brought the attention of the entertainment industry and government agencies to Rock and Wrap it Up.

Even the Winter Party which I was lucky enough to attend in December demonstrated the eclectic tapestry of talent which has been drawn to Rock and Wrap It Up! This is especially important during tough economic times where many philanthropies vie for money and attention. The event's organizer, Andrea Chung, devised her own strategy in maximizing the "invite process" to this fundraising event. Andrea's own personal inspiration and connection to the re-distribution of food occurred when she saw a woman her own grandmother's age begging for food front in front of Whole Foods. Mutual friend and RWP board member, John Kluge, Jr introduced Syd and Andrea and the notion of the Winter Party was born. Andrea's invitees included a variety of social notables from a CNBC anchorwoman, to an Ex-Soros fund manager, attorneys from Skadden Arps to movie producers. Social media entrepreneurs, Latin-american soft drink tycoons, Wilhelmina models and MTV personalities (It was hosted by Ed Bennett, former COO of Viacom, MTV CEO and VH1 Founder) and many others rounded out the evening. Each one of those ambassadors brought some of their most influential and generous rolodex in tow, creating a networking event which was unlike any other that I have attended. Exposure and ideas flowed along with dollars to sustain the movement. For me, it was a chance to see how unbridled passion can move assets from a waning state to tangible liquid assets where they can make the difference in the lives of many! Other philanthropic efforts can learn so much from the creativity of this group!

Rock on Syd, Andrea, John, Leslie and others! Learn more about Rock and Wrap it Up here.