ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — After 365 days of Person of the Week segments, we're down to the 2018 News 13 Person of the Year.
The winner, as selected by News 13 staff, is Flori Pate, of Asheville. She's the founder of Food Connection, a nonprofit that links restaurants with too much food to folks who don't have enough.
Since our report in January, the effort's expanded to Black Mountain and is even starting in Charlotte.
Pate was stunned by the honor, saying it should be called Persons of the Year, because she shares the award with countless partners.
"There are so many people involved in this effort to reduce waste and feed the hungry," she told News 13. "We have our food donor partners, people who are working in the service industry that are packing and labeling all the fresh food for us and of course our volunteer drivers. Asheville Taxi, they have literally tens of thousands of meals for Food Connection."
The two fellow finalists for Person of the Year included Ken Maultsby, a World War II veteran who helps kids with math at Erwin Middle and has become a homework hero. We also recognize the inspiring legacy of late Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher, who died of cancer earlier this year.
Four years ago, Pate and her husband created the Dig Local app to keep people informed about local happenings. But it's her side project that gives her an even greater appreciation for the heart of our community.
"There's so many people that want to help, and sometimes they just don't know how to," Pate said.
A few years ago, she figured out a way to work with the local food industry, including Deerfield Retirement Community, to help fight hunger.
Like, so many restaurants, and especially caterers, they often have an abundance of food.
"Sometimes we have leftovers and I don't want to throw them away. I want someone to eat them," Cary Shackleford, the executive chef for Deerfield Retirement Community, said.
So far, the nonprofit's rescued 70,000 restaurant-quality meals that would have been thrown away, giving them to local shelters and other groups who feed people in need.
"This is a restaurant destination, people come here to eat the food. For any of that food to end up in a landfill is absolutely absurd," Pate observed.
A conversation with a Pack's Tavern worker a few years ago inspired action. Marketing and special events director Mary Evans vented to Pate.
"With Asheville being a wedding and banquet destination, there was probably a lot of food going in the trash, and how I wished that there was a way to connect it to the people that needed it," Evans said of the conversation.
"I feel like I'm the Match.com of people with too much food, to connect them with people with not enough food," Pate added.
Within weeks, she coordinated with Asheville Taxi to start delivering Pack's Tavern leftovers at nearby shelters.
"In a world of talkers, Flori is a doer," Evans said.
Later, donors like Celine and Company, Dining Innovations, UNC-Asheville, and Deerfield joined the movement.
"With Food Connection, we're not asking them to shop for food and prepare food, we're just asking them not to throw away their already prepared food," Pate said.
"I'm always glad to help anybody who's hungry," Chef Cary Shackleford added.