Food for hungry — delivered on bikes

Orange Coast College's mascot may be a pirate, but that doesn't mean pirates can't plunder for a good cause.

"We like to think that instead of a pirate's chest full of booty, it's a pirate's chest full of love," said Carl Morgan, co-advisor for the school's Food Riders.

OCC's Food Riders Club cycles around campus twice a week to pick up food that would normally be thrown away. Instead, members deliver it to organizations that feed Costa Mesa's homeless and hungry.

Now in its third year, the club meets Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons to take as much as 300 pounds of food on the six-mile round trip to two organizations, Share Our Selves and Lighthouse Church.

"I think it's a great way to give back to the community on so many different levels," said co-advisor Brian Burnett. "First of all, this is food that would normally be destined for a landfill, and we're able to give it to people that could benefit from it, and we're transporting it in the most environmentally friendly way possible, and it's a fun way to do it."

Last Friday, Food Riders met in front of the OCC library while they waited for campus food services to close at 2 p.m. Then, they rode.

They stopped at the Snack Shack, where they picked up whole wheat muffins and buns, veggie patties, pineapples and onions, before parking their bikes at the loading docks behind the cafeteria. Inside, they checked the bedroom-sized refrigerator and freezer, as well as the hot food line, to see what food was left for them.

Back on the loading dock, the riders sorted their loot into plastic container bins and coolers, packing away cooked carrots and rice; fruit, doughnuts and muffins; what looked like frozen pastries; and the jackpot — cooked chicken.

"It's a treat, and the homeless have very few of those," said Monique Burleigh, an administrator with Lighthouse Church.

Food Riders are given extra food, or food that won't be good by Monday, from the campus quick-eats spots, the cafeteria and even the culinary arts program.

The club saves an estimated 65% of food that would normally be thrown in trash cans, said Thomas Selzer, general manager of instructional food service operations.

"It's a win-win for everyone," said Selzer, who didn't hesitate when Food Riders came calling. "We'd like to get this stuff out and have it utilized."

Although OCC is open to donating extra food — and has donated to Second Harvest Food Bank — many establishments are nervous about possible lawsuits, despite legal protections, Morgan said.

Still, the club hopes to inspire others to see what can be accomplished if everyone helped while also spreading the word about what is happening on campus.

"We see it as an opportunity to build awareness and expose them to what's going on in their community," said Morgan, "and kind of plant the seed, so even if they don't continue with the club and what we're doing specifically, they may be able to serve those organizations or organizations like it in the future."

The club started as an experiment with the Sierra Club to use cycling to make a positive change. Food Riders President Kurt Bahneman said about 20 people are actively involved in the club, and they are also looking for more — even those who aren't veteran cyclists.

The ride is flat and goes along bike trails and streets with lower traffic levels and speed limits, Bahneman said.

"Its very user-friendly, very beginner-friendly," he said. "It's a slow-paced ride. That's part of our goal to have it open to people who are relatively new to cycling as well as seasoned veterans."

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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