When health expert and author Chet Sisk volunteered at a homeless shelter in Denver, he said he saw people donate food "he wouldn't feed his dog."
"Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, chicken-on-a-stick, and pastries. Basically things that would've been better off being buried in a local landfill," Sisk said.
Sisk, founder of Quality Foods for Everyone, a program that provides organic, all-natural foods to homeless shelters nationwide, was at the University of Memphis last week speaking on the topic "Food Fight: How To Bridge the Food Divide Before Things Get Really Ugly."
Sisk said bakeries often donate day-old sweets to homeless shelters and feeding programs. This practice holds true in cities across the country, and Memphis is no exception.
Jason Smith is the group coordinator for the Memphis chapter of Food Not Bombs, an organization that provides the homeless with healthy, vegetarian meals every Saturday. Smith said stores are more likely to donate baked goods than healthy foods.
"Baked goods are thrown out every day, but fresh produce is harder to come by," Smith said.
Smith said Food Not Bombs wants to change the way Memphis' homeless population eats.
"A lot of churches and shelters serve fried chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs. We're trying to provide an alternative to that," Smith said.
Homeless people often have compromised immune systems, and unhealthy foods aren't helping.
"Many are recovering addicts or are still suffering from addiction or alcoholism. Many don't know when or where their next meal is coming from or where they're going to sleep, so their health has already been ravaged," Sisk said.
Brad Watkins, organizing coordinator of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, said it's challenging for local shelters to provide nutritious food when they're relying on donations, but he said healthier food for the homeless would cut down on medical costs.
Most local shelters do the best with what they have. Sister Maureen Griner, executive director of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, said volunteers bring meals to the transitional house on Poplar every Monday night. Past meals have included pork tenderloin, pizza, tacos, and chili. Volunteers are encouraged to bring healthy meals, but Griner said, unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
Steve Carpenter, director of development at downtown's Memphis Union Mission, said they normally serve some form of meat, vegetables, a starch, and bread at their free daily breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
"We try to keep it as balanced as possible," Carpenter said.
A volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission on North Cleveland said they serve bag lunches that include "sandwiches, something sweet, and something salty."
"The plan is to provide guests with something nutritious," said the volunteer, who asked to have his name withheld. "We normally serve bologna or peanut butter sandwiches, chips, and donuts or cookies."