Dan's passion for fighting hunger began at Niskayuna High School (upsate New York) in 1994 when he volunteered to work at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. With the help of the school administration, Dan organized athletic teams to come to the food bank to pack and distribute food for the hungry.
New York Law Journal
© 2006 New York Law Journal Online
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Hungry to Help
by: John Caher
If you knew Daniel S. Kahn was trolling for a million pounds of food, you might think the David Polk & Wardell associate had quite an appetite. And you might be right.
But the 28-year old attorney hungers to help the hungry - something he has been doing since he was a kid.
Now Mr. Kahn, with the help of his firm, is expanding on a brainstorm that struck in 1998 when he was an undergraduate at Cornell University.
As students were departing Ithaca after the first year, they were leaving behind mounds of food - cereals, canned soups, uncooked pasta and such that they were not inclined to cart home along with their books, computers and dirty laundry. All that stuff was going to waste.
What if, Mr. Kahn wondered, someone made a concerted effort to gather the non-perishable surplus in one place on campus and a food bank was enticed to come pick it up? That someone turned out to be him, and Students Team Up To Fight Hunger (STUFH) was born.
At first, it was just Cornell that was donating left-behinds to food banks. Then schools in Syracuse and Binghamton signed on. Mr Kahn kept it growing when he served as a West Wing intern in the White House in 1998 and 1999. He continued to nurture it through Harvard Law School when he enrolled in 2000, and while at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, where he worked over the summers of 2001 and 2002. And it remains a major extra-curricular in his life at Davis Polk, which he joined in 2003, shortly after leaving Cambridge with a cum laude J.D.
Today, STUFH, which operates mainly via a small website and the founder’s cell phone, is active in all but a handful of states. Mr. Kahn’s goal is to enlist 1,000 colleges to collect 1 million pounds of non-perishables for regional food banks across the country. So far, STUFH has collected about 300,000 pounds of food which, assuming a pound of food equals roughly one meal, adds up to 300,000 meals. The program has grown every year since 1999, when 1,000 pounds of food was donated (see yearly results of the program since 1999).
“Every once in a while I’ll work in a food pantry and see people getting the food, and it is touching thing,” Mr. Kahn said.
The food banks that work with Mr. Kahn set up bins at convenient locations on campus, pick up contents and then distribute th food to shelters, food pantries and other locations in their region. The shelters and pantries then give the food directly to the needy.
Last year was particularly successful year as a competition between some fraternities and sororities at rival campuses generated nearly a three-fold increase. The goal for 2006 is 500,000 pounds.
“Next year, we are hoping to foster a rivalry week where, for example, North Carolina and Duke would see who could raise the most food, or Michigan and Ohio State - anywhere there is a built-in rivalry,” said Mr. Kahn, a varsity athlete at Cornell who now captains the Davis Polk corporate tennis team. “We hope to do it leading up to a sporting event, like a football or a basketball game, and then again at the end of the school year.”
Martha Faupel, Executive Director of the Food Bank of East Alabama, said she first came into contact with Mr. Kahn several years ago, when he was just beginning the program.
With Auburn University in her backyard, Ms. Faupel was an obvious target for Mr. Kahn. Auburn University has been a particularly eager participant in the STUFH effort, Mrs. Faupel said. But she gives Mr. Kahn credit for continuing to expand what began as a very modest effort. Her Alabama food bank is part of a national network of food banks, America’s Second Harvest, which Mr. Kahn frequently taps.
“He and I got more and more inspired the more we talked,” Ms Faupel said. “It started off on a small scale, but Dan really had a vision of where it could go, and now every year it grows bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Americans waste about 29 percent of their food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ms. Faupel said there is not so much a food shortage in this country as a distribution problem. She suspects many people would gladly donate their surplus to the poor if they could do so with minimum hassle. She said Mr. Kahn’s program, centered on a philosophy that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, succeeds because it makes donating to charity easy and convenient.
“I see him as a real cheerleader for this effort,” Ms. Faupel said of Mr. Kahn, who earned a degree in communications from Cornell. “He’s a great communicator and his personal touch has really made a difference.”
BOOST FROM DAVIS POLK
The project got a big boost a few months ago when Mr. Kahn’s colleagues at Davis Polk joined in the effort and established STUFH as a tax-deductible, not-for-profit corporation.
“We were happy to support the program,” said Amy Rossabi, an attorney who serves as the firm’s full-time pro bono coordinator. “It certainly fits within our definition of pro bono. We are lucky to have (Mr. Kahn) and the program is lucky to have him as well.”
With its pro bono commitment, Mr. Kahn said Davis Polk is a comfortable fit for his legal career.
“We do some great work representing prisoners, representing death penalty cases,”Mr. Kahn said.
Now that STUFH has tax-exempt status due to Davis Polk’s pro bono contribution, Mr. Kahn is hoping if enough contributions come in he may be able to hire a manger to relieve some of the burden he shoulders in attempting to balance the program with his law practice.
“At this time of year (with the semester winding down), it does get kind of hectic,” Mr. Kahn said. “With one hand, I’m trying to file findings of facts and conclusions of laws and briefs, and with the other I am trying to coordinate colleges with food banks.”
Mr. Kahn said he has always been interested in helping the less fortunate, an interest that led him into law and then to Davis Polk. And he is always looking for new ways to salvage food for the hungry.
“There is certainly no patent on the idea of raising food,” Mr. Kahn said. “Everyone has neat tactics and strategies to do it. What I am hoping is that the website (www.stufh.org) will become a depository of ideas so schools and food banks can learn and build off each other.”
One idea under consideration is encouraging Manhattan law firms to contribute unused food from their cafeterias and dining halls.
“I don’t think that life really is meant to just do things for yourself or attain your own goals,” Mr. Kahn said.
- John Caher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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