When Giovanna Mingrone gets a call from a restaurant or a West Side Market vendor, she goes to the rescue. The delivery might be for a Gaylord, or bulk bin of juicing oranges, a glut of green papaya, or a pallet of carrots, that she stuffs into her overworked hatchback and delivers to local church and community kitchens like St Paul’s Drop-In Center and St. Malachi.
This chef, educator, restaurateur, and founder of Stone Soup CLE—named after the folktale of a town that comes together to feed everyone—works with a solid group of volunteers to make sure that food destined for waste finds delicious new purpose in feeding Cleveland’s hungry.
Her job is more than just shuffling foods from donor to where they are needed. “Our mission is greater than just feeding the masses,” she says. “We want to add more nutrition to the meals and keep perfectly good food out of the dumpster.”
“We work toward total utilization of the product, so we find different ways to use it,” she says. Rescued salad greens and asparagus might be delivered as-is, fresh and ready to serve. But larger shipments will be repurposed altogether, such as the 400 pounds of bananas that recently were brewed into a batch of sweet-n-sour vinegar for salad dressings.
She spent enough time around kitchens to know how some would get too much donated on a single day. Volunteer cooks needed help juggling an overabundance.
“We contribute to a lot of different meal schedules and organize ourselves to be in the right place at the right time with the right product,” she says. “And we work with the cooks on how to transform too much into something useful.”
The pallet of carrots was puréed into a vitamin-packed addition to soups, while cauliflower and potatoes buddy-up in a delicious mash, and elsewhere tofu is an inconspicuous protein in a mac and cheese.
Donations also come from Ohio City Pasta, Premier Produce, and even the Cleveland Food Bank when perishable food or product needs to be utilized quickly.
Meanwhile, Mingrone wants to add dairy products to the mix, while kitchen space and funds for gas are high on the organization’s wish list.
“Plus a truck,” she said, “and some grant writers.”