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Arena leftovers assigned a mission

After TD Garden events, unsold food is donated

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By David Filipov
Globe Staff / January 18, 2011

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Lasagna and pizza. Tortellini and turkey salad. Italian sausage, spicy chorizo, jumbo all-beef hot dogs. Tasty and calorific options for any table. For diners at the Boston Rescue Mission on a recent Friday, this menu constituted a veritable feast.

But this story is not about the mission’s lavish spread. It is about how this fare got there.

These were leftovers from the previous night’s Boston Bruins game at TD Garden, all the prepared food that went unsold at the arena’s concession stands that could be consumed safely the next day. The Garden has been donating its unsold food to the mission since October, part of a nationwide initiative to help feed the hungry with leftovers from major arena events, rather than simply discarding the food.

Some 25 tons of Garden food each year used to go to compost. Now, more than 16 tons could be saved and served at the mission, according to Mike Zielinski, general manager for SportService, which oversees all food and beverage operations at the Garden.

“It’s like a big, giant doggie bag,’’ Zielinski said. “It’s a good feeling to know that they’re using it.’’

To illustrate how these donations work, a Globe reporter went behind the scenes to follow a selection of sausages, chorizo, and hot dogs as they made their way from the Garden’s refrigerators to a concession stand during a Jan. 6 Bruins game, then onto the plates of the homeless the next day.

Well before the game began and the food went on sale, every hot dog and sausage was counted in the cavernous warren of food deep beneath the ice. All food is valued at its sales price — $6.75 for each sausage — so workers have to count carefully. Any shortages could be docked from their pay.

There were 416 hot dogs and sausages in the cage that Dave Kraft of Peabody wheeled up to Links Grill — one of 40 concession stands that are open for Bruins games. About an hour before game time, Gloria Avila of Dorchester, who has worked Garden concession stands for 16 seasons, placed the sausages, chorizo, and hot dogs on a large grill and covered them in butter, watching carefully as they sizzled. Other workers saw to the cups and pretzels and popcorn and beer taps. They had to be ready for the rush that follows the first period.

Similar preparations take place nightly at sporting events and concerts at arenas across a country where millions go to sleep hungry. That did not add up for Syd Mandelbaum, a former consultant to the Center for Blood Research Institute of Harvard Medical School, who in 1994 had the idea to ask rock bands — including Boston’s own Aerosmith — to stipulate in their tour contracts that any leftovers from the food prepared for the band and its entourage go to feed the hungry. Mandelbaum’s idea caught on. Now the antipoverty think tank he founded, Rock and Wrap It Up!, works with more than 160 music bands, major hotel chains, and dozens of colleges, universities, and sports franchises — including, starting this season, the 30 teams of the National Hockey League.

“It’s a labor of love, and people eat,’’ Mandelbaum said in an interview. He grew up hearing stories about starvation in concentration camps from his parents, who survived the Holocaust. “Helping feed the hungry in this country is my way of thanking the United States for taking my parents in,’’ he said.

Once the Bruins were on board, it made sense to broaden the initiative to Boston Celtics games and other events in the arena, said Charlie Jacobs, principal of Delaware North Companies, which owns the TD Garden.

Arrangements such as the one between the Garden and the Boston Rescue Mission are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which protects food donors from liability, as long as the donor was acting in good faith and took all possible measures to handle the food safely.

Stacy Wong, a spokeswoman for the Greater Boston Food Bank, said that such exchanges benefit both sides.

“People in need receive the food provided, and the company reduces its waste disposal costs while receiving acknowledgement for being a good corporate citizen,’’ she said.

The concession workers at Links Grill do not like having lots of leftovers. They are paid on commission, and therefore need to sell as much as they can. During a playoff game, they might earn $250 each. A bad night can go as low as $60. They cannot afford to buy what they sell, and the Garden gives them no worker discount. Kraft ate before coming to work at the Jan. 6 Bruins game against the Minnesota Wild; Avila brought a cheeseburger and iced tea from McDonald’s.

All leftovers used to be thrown into a cardboard box on the floor, along with broken buns or pretzels and food that had been burned or otherwise deemed inappropriate for sale, said Peter Zettel, concessions manager at the Garden. “Spoilage,’’ he called it — the industry term for food that cannot be sold.

A little before game time, the stand opened and a steady stream of fans stopped on their way to their seats. The big rush came during the two 15-minute intermissions. Two lines averaged 15 or so people, mostly men in Bruins shirts and hats, some with children, fewer women. They ordered sausages, dogs, beers, and “Muchos Nachos.’’

At 9:15 p.m., the stand closed. Accounting for food at cleanup time is as important as it is before the game. Kraft counted cups, as another worker poured unused nachos into a container — they could be served at the Celtics matchup with the Toronto Raptors the next night. The total take was $4,900, Kraft said, far short of the $6,000 possible on a really good night.

Avila counted the foods deemed suitable for donation: 13 jumbo all-beef hot dogs, seven Italian sausages, five spicy chorizo sausages. They were supposed to be bagged, but on this night, the Links Grill had no bag. A Bruins official was alerted and made calls. A yellow-shirted supervisor arrived with a bag, and insisted this was a one-time glitch.

Avila carried away the box of bagged sausages and hot dogs, sipping on the McDonald’s iced tea she had brought over four hours earlier. Downstairs, the bagged sausages and hot dogs went into a steel container on a two-shelf metal cart. Similar containers held donations from other concession stands for the night: sealed bags of chicken soup, strombolis, pasta, shaved steak, hamburgers, turkey legs, lasagna, and pizza. Zielinski estimated that this was about 150 pounds of food.

The next morning, Jan. 7, kitchen supervisor Joe Benjamin rolled out the cart, and Anthony Dabney, head of housekeeping for the Boston Rescue Mission, loaded it into a minivan. Dabney said he will take any food that is properly wrapped and refrigerated and will not spoil during the approximately 10-minute ride from the Garden to the mission on Kingston Street — a half-hour in traffic.

He estimated that the haul from the Garden would make up about 50 percent of what would be served to the roughly 250 people expected to eat lunch or dinner at the shelter that day. The rescue mission has a lunch for its residents, but afternoon meals are open to anyone, he said, including people with jobs who cannot afford their bills.

“It’s for anybody in need,’’ he said.

Dabney said food from the TD Garden is as well-preserved as any donations the mission receives.

He added: “Billy-O will make sure it is safe to eat.’’

That would be Bill Oranzak, a supervisor cook at the mission.

He used to be a cook in the North End. He checks over the food and thinks up creative ways to serve it. He makes sure prepared foods are served the day they arrived. On this day, he turned turkey into a turkey salad. He heated up the lasagna and pizza. The sausages and chorizo and hot dogs from Links Grill he heated up really well, until they were dark.

“Can’t take chances with the pork,’’ he said.

Oranzak knows what it means to appreciate a good meal. In 2005, he lived in the shelter.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been in the lines,’’ he said. “The Boston Rescue Mission helped me to get my life on track. It fulfills me to be able to give back and be able do it with foods that are donated.’’

An announcement sounded in the shelter: “Attention House. It is now time for lunch!’’

People began to file in, and dig in. “This is great,’’ said one diner.

“Every donation, however big, however small, we are going to use it,’’ Oranzak said. “It’s spoilage for them but it’s a feast for us.’’

David Filipov can be reached at filipov@globe.com.

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