COUSINS SHANE AND LOGAN HOFFMAN prepare bananas for dehydration and Sister Rosemary Cuneo, CR, chops carrots. (Emily Benson photos)
COUSINS SHANE AND LOGAN HOFFMAN prepare bananas for dehydration and Sister Rosemary Cuneo, CR, chops carrots. (Emily Benson photos)
Sister Rosemary Cuneo, CR, is on the hunt for bruised apples, browning bananas and other "otherwise wasted foods."

The pastoral associate for youth ministry and young adult ministry at St. Madeleine Sophie parish in Schenectady and St. Gabriel's in Rotterdam is heading up the youth ministry's newest service project: dehydrating donated food for local food pantries.

A food dehydrator uses low temperatures and a fan to dry out fruits, vegetables and meats. The process can take from eight to 12 hours, depending on the food item, and can add months of shelf life to foods that typically spoil in a week or two.

Strawberries, blueberries and chicken are not considered typical donations to food pantries because of their short shelf life, Sister Rosemary explained. Now, thanks to two recently-donated dehydrators, St. Madeleine Sophie and St. Gabriel's can give local food pantries some unusual donations.

Though nothing that is already spoiled will be accepted for the youth ministry effort, Sister Rosemary said foods that are near the end of their shelf life are perfect for donation.

"It really teaches the value of not wasting food," she told The Evangelist. "An apple with a bruise on it, or a banana that's just on the edge of browning, [we will take]."

Sister Rosemary got the idea back in March when she saw a video online of a Protestant church using dehydrators to ship food to missionaries overseas. She loved the idea, but wanted to do something to help the hungry in the Albany Diocese.

In October, she contacted various manufacturing companies, asking if they would be willing to donate to the project. NESCO and Conair each donated a dehydrator. Such items are typically worth $50 to $300.

Sister Rosemary set up a donation box at the entrance of St. Madeline Sophie where parishioners could drop off donations of produce. She is in the process of applying for food donations from Hannaford and other local supermarkets, which give away browning or bruised produce to local charities.

The goal of the youth ministry project is to have enough food by the end of each week for the students to cut up, dehydrate and bag for donation. Sister Rosemary plans to attach recipe cards to the bags, so recipients can choose to eat the dried fruits and vegetables as-is or use them for cooking.

Last week, youth ministry members volunteered for the first test run of the dehydrators. A half-dozen teenagers sat in stations around St. Madeleine Sophie's faith formation office, cutting up carrots, apples and bananas and placing them on the dehydrator sheets.

Nick Phillips, a junior at Guilderland High School and parishioner at St. Madeleine Sophie, likes the unusual idea.

"It's definitely a good thing to teach people," he said. "What if you're in the situation of [being hungry]? Then you would want help."

Richmond Dill, a junior at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany who attends St. Madeleine Sophie, said that "everybody's got to eat.

"It's really cool, because you can put pretty much anything in [the dehydrator], and then you can store things for years," he said.

Sister Rosemary hopes the project will help teach the teens how easy it is to give back to the community -- and also to be conscientious of how much food they throw away.

"It's such a great way to teach the kids to help the poor, to save food and to give back to the community," she said.

Sister Rosemary applauded the "great kids" in the youth ministry program. With God and the students by her side, she said, she feels like the foods that don't make it to the dehydrators: "spoiled rotten."