PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Every year, restaurants throw out billions of pounds of extra food. Now, some is being saved for a good cause.

Restaurant chains have started using the extras to help feed families across the United States.

On most days, the one hot meal Paterson, New Jersey resident Charlotte Moran’s two young children rely on is the free food served at a local church.

“It helps my family out a lot because, you know, sometimes we run out,” she told CBS2’s Kenneth Craig. “We always have the church to turn back.”

The meal is prepared with donations including extras from some of the nation’s biggest restaurants. Chef Erin Harvell from Olive Garden showed off the soups, sauces, and lasagna the restaurant often gives away. She says they’re not leftovers. The food is unused, still fresh surplus that otherwise would have gone to waste.

“This would definitely go in the trash,” she said.

Each year, American restaurants are estimated to generate 22 billion pounds of food waste. Olive Garden is just one of a number of major chain restaurants trying to change that.

“It’s edible food, somebody could eat this,” Chef Harvell said. “You could take this home right now and have it for lunch today.”

A number of other restaurants, including Panera Bread, the Cheesecake Factory, and KFC also donate food. The surplus items are handed over to charities like Table to Table.

It’s then transformed into hearty meals at organizations including Saint Augustine Church in Paterson, New Jersey.

“If we didn’t have these donations we’d probably be closed,” Nancy Grier tells CBS2. “If we weren’t open, people wouldn’t be eating in this area.”

Charlotte says she’s filled with gratitude.

“I wake up every day to a loving family,” she said. “Not only my family, but to the world.”

It’s a community that’s helping families like Charlotte’s get by one meal at a time.

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