Monday through Friday, Robert Burns plays football. On Saturday, he drives a food truck.
A three-star recruit out of Gulliver Prep, Burns is entering his second season as a running back for the Miami Hurricanes. In the summer, his days are jam-packed with hours of training and studying. On the weekends, though, while most of his teammates recover, Burns is delivering dozens of free meals to the homeless.
He and his longtime friend Anthony Hasan, a Miami native and former teammate at Gulliver, started Second Spoon, taking extra food from local restaurants and delivering it to people who need it across Miami-Dade County. With Hasan (now a quarterback at Vanderbilt) leading the charge, they converted an old FedEx delivery van into a food truck, and recruited friends and UM athletes to help them deliver food that might have otherwise gone to waste.
Hasan became aware of the scope of food waste two years ago, when he was a freshman on Syracuse’s football team.
“It was brought up in a conversation with our team chef,” Hasan said. “He was like, ‘Hey man, we waste so much food. I wish there was a way to conserve it and redistribute it out to the poor.’ ”
It got Hasan thinking about food waste back in his hometown.
In Miami-Dade County, nearly 10 percent of people are food insecure, according to Feeding America, a non-profit hunger relief organization. Food insecurity is defined by limited availability of nutritionally adequate foods or uncertain ability to get them. Yet, according to the USDA, between 30 and 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted every year.
A year after speaking with the team chef, Hasan registered Second Spoon with the IRS, created pages on social media and began reaching out to restaurants. After realizing that a new food truck can cost six-figures, Hasan decided on a more modest, converted truck. He held a gala in his parents’ backyard in Miami to fund the truck, raising about $15,000.
While some restaurants agreed to give their extra food to Second Spoon, others resisted, fearing they’d be liable if something went wrong. Hasan always explains that the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 makes it easy for them to donate food without risk of liability. Sometimes, that’s enough. Other times, restaurants toss the food anyway.
“Some restaurants do a good job of reducing waste,” Hasan said. “While with others, you’re creating foods in the morning in bulk. In those situations especially, there’s going to be an enormous excess. Those are the kinds of situations where we can really come in and help.”
Hasan quickly recruited Burns to help out. A dynamic running back-quarterback pair at Gulliver, both ended high school as highly sought-after recruits. Though they decided to continue their careers at different universities, they’ve remained teammates with Second Spoon, where Hasan is president and Burns is vice president.
When Hasan is out of the state, Burns handles the logistics, picking up food and finding volunteers. Burns has also brought his own friends along. Every week, more Hurricane players are out on Saturday delivering food.
“Initially what got me going was just hearing his passion about it,” Burns said. “He’s my go-to guy. I was like, ‘Okay, whatever you need me to do.’ ”
Any given Saturday, the Second Spoon truck delivers food to those who are homeless around Miami. On a recent weekend, the truck pulled up under the I-395 bridge in Overtown. Within minutes, it was crowded with people eating donated Hank and Harry’s bagels, drinking water and dancing to music pouring out of the truck.
The Second Spoon volunteers change from week to week. On this day, besides Burns, there was Hannah Marwede, a UM soccer player, Christian Delgado, a friend of Burns’ from church, and Michael Parrott, a UM fullback who appears capable of lifting very heavy objects.
Parrott leans out of the truck and strikes up conversations while handing out food.
“What are the possibilities of me having a poppy seed bagel? If we can so choose,” asks Philip Slyverin. Originally from Bay Shore, Brooklyn, Slyverin knows a good bagel when he sees one. He’s lived in various spots across the country since then.
Once the Second Spoon arrives at a certain location, they don’t leave until everyone has gotten something to eat or the truck has run out of food. Even then, that doesn’t always stop them.
A few weeks ago, when they ran out of chicken sandwiches, they began to hand out snacks the UM nutritionist gave them. This time, when they ran out of bottled water, Parrott filled cups with his personal bottle.
While some people just grab some food and get on their way, many stay and chat for quite a while.
As the football season approaches, Burns said Second Spoon is looking for volunteers to go out on distribution runs. When the team’s Saturdays are booked with nationally televised games, it will be impossible for them to go out themselves. But for now, the people they’re serving are not worrying about that.
“I’m going to see you on TV and say, ‘Man, I know that guy! I met him,’” Clarence Farmer says to Burns. “I’m gonna have some bragging rights!”
After getting to everyone under the bridge, the crew packs into the truck and moves to another location.
“Listos? Everybody ready?” Burns asks. The crew braces itself in the back of the vehicle. A “Don’t drop, don’t throw sticker” is affixed to the wall, a reminder of the truck’s shipping past.
“In a way, you know, we are still shipping,” Burns said.
Second Spoon only has one truck out now, but Hasan hopes to add one in Nashville, while at Vanderbilt. They’re also looking to partner with more churches and other businesses. But their end-goal is bigger.
“Hopefully within the next 10 years, we’re rendered obsolete,” he said, “when there’s not enough food waste for us to even exist.”