A Florida Non-Profit Gives Vacationers a Place to Put the Things They’re Leaving Behind … Other than the Trash
In terms of food waste, the contents of our private refrigerators may be minor culprits compared to the throwaways of the restaurant and grocery industries, but it all adds up — to an estimated 119 billion pounds of household food waste annually in the US. And unlike the minutiae of our everyday lives, waste isn’t something we can escape with a nice vacation. In fact, waste generated by vacationers is an increasing issue as the short-term rental market continues to grow, driven by traveler demand for square footage and a proper kitchen over the simple check-in/check-out convenience of a hotel room.
Indian Rocks Beach is a cozy community along Florida’s Gulf Coast, with aquamarine waters and a relaxed pace of life that draws visitors for days, weeks, or even months at a time. But when it’s time to go home, not everything gets packed up for the return trip.
“In any kind of resort area where you have outdoor activities, people buy a lot of things,” says Diane Daniel, a short-term rental owner and part-time resident of Indian Rocks Beach. People leave behind everything from beach chairs and toys to coolers, umbrellas, and books, she says, assuming the cleaner or homeowner will want them — and this is on top of leftover groceries.
“‘Leaving it for the cleaner’ is a cop-out most of the time,” Daniel says. “It sounds good and it makes people feel good, but cleaners are often tending to multiple homes. Unless they’re planning to open a convenience store, they can’t handle all that stuff, and they don’t want it.”
Frustrated by the amount of goods she saw going to waste in her community every year, Daniel founded Vacation Donations in early 2022. “After a stay, give it away” is the organization’s tagline, encouraging vacationers to donate leftover food and recreational items rather than discarding or abandoning them.
“No one’s going to say, ‘I like to waste things, I like to throw things away,’ but any barrier to donating is huge, especially on vacation,” Daniel says. She distributes flyers and fridge magnets to other short-term rental owners to display in their properties, which puts useful information right in vacationers’ line of vision. Food can be donated to the local food pantry, children’s items can go to a take-a-toy/leave-a-toy bin, towels and bedding can be donated to an animal shelter, and books can go to the local library.
To help spread the word about the Vacation Donations mission, Daniel held a mini food drive at a condominium building this month, positioning her table between the elevators and the parking lot to ensure everyone would pass her as they came and went.
“People were so excited to see me; they were so happy to give their things away,” says Daniel, proving her theory that when it’s easy to do the right thing, people generally will. She also used the opportunity to educate vacationers who weren’t checking out that day, encouraging them to go to her website and find out where to donate their goods later — nearly all recipients are just blocks away and capable of taking donations 24/7.
Daniel was inspired to create Vacation Donations by A Second Helping, a similar initiative in coastal North Carolina that was founded in 2005. She hopes other vacation communities will follow suit, calling the short-term rental market an “untapped source of a lot of food.”
“It’s definitely an uphill battle,” Daniel acknowledges, “but I think it’s a battle worth fighting.”
What You Can Do:
- Be more mindful of consumption while on vacation.
- Shop for food as needed rather than bulk-buying to cover every “just in case” scenario.
- Rent equipment for sports and activities instead of making a spontaneous purchase.
- Research food pantries and outlets for donating goods in your vacation spot — then build in time to drop things off.