If you’ve been to a Ragin’ Cajuns football game this season, that second hot dog you passed on at the concession stand may have fed a community member in need.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Office of Sustainability is leading the charge to turn unserved food at the football games into a vehicle to give back to the community. Instead of being discarded, the food is recovered and donated to nonprofits and assistance groups in the area.

The food recovery program began as a partnership with UL’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network, a national organization that mobilizes students to limit food waste on college campuses, UL sustainability coordinator Monica Rowand said.

The initiative was piloted after the university’s Fête de la Terre Earth Day celebration several years ago and focused on collecting unused groceries from the Cypress Lake Dining Room every Friday, she said.

The food recovery program is now in its second year at Cajun Field and operates daily at the dining hall. The sustainability office also recovers food from Ragin’ Cajuns softball and baseball games. The team is hoping to expand next to more catered and special events around campus, Rowand said.

The program was expanded as part of the university’s larger sustainability strategic plan; one of the initiatives is for the university to reach zero waste. In addition to recovering food at games, student workers and volunteers also help collect recyclable and compostable materials and ensure the waste is properly sorted to divert paper, plastics and other materials from landfills, she said.

“The University operates on a large scale, which means there’s a lot of waste and a lot of lives we can impact,” Rowand said.

Last year, the team recovered 2,072 pounds of food from Ragin’ Cajuns football games alone, equivalent to roughly 1,727 meals for the community. Before the Nov. 23 game, the office had collected about 1,500 pounds of food, or 1,259 meals’ worth of food. A single meal is considered roughly 1.2 pounds of food, she said.

The process is simple.

The sustainability office coordinated with the university’s food distribution and services management company, Sodexo, to have any cooked but unsold or unserved food saved and packaged at the end of football games. Instead of going into a landfill, the food is collected by a sustainability office student worker and loaded into a truck for donation.

The university coordinates the donations through Second Harvest Food Bank, who also partners with the school to collect recovered food from the dining hall and other venues. This season, the university has donated mainly to AcadianaCares, but has also worked with True Vine Ministries, Rowand said.

Architecture graduate student Ian Naquin helps recover the unserved food.

On Nov. 23, Naquin wheeled a metal utility cart around the stadium to the concession stands as fans filed out and celebrated the Cajuns’ win. He popped his head in, chatted with the concession stand workers and helped load hot dogs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, boudin balls and chicken fingers into sealed serving platters and cardboard boxes.

He then rolled the food to the Gate A entrance, where he unloaded it onto tables for easy pickup at the end of the night. Naquin said he makes about five to six stops each game and collects prepared food from the catering staff on the suite level.

The first-year graduate student said he’s proud to see the university using available resources to help those in need. The university receives so much from others, it’s important they serve the community as much as possible, Naquin said.

“Showing an effort to engage in the community and help is crucial,” he said.

After the Nov. 2 homecoming game against Texas State University, Naquin said he recovered enough food to fill the truck bed of the AcadianaCares volunteer’s Ford F250 twice; the volunteer had to make a delivery and then return to collect more food.

“It’s crazy to see how much waste we output and to see how much we can filter to compost, recycle or donate,” Naquin said.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com