Become a Local Food Hero
How do we reduce waste and help our neighbors in need? For Food Rescue 412 it’s as simple as an app that allows anyone to convey surplus product to organizations who help those in need. Read about how you can become a local food hero in today’s blog.
Across the country there are organizations sprouting up to help reduce waste on a large scale and help combat hunger by transporting excess product to the hungry. A statistic that many of us in the food business know far too well, is that 40 percent of our food goes to waste while 1 in 7 people in our country go hungry.
In the Pittsburgh area, 412 Food Rescue is addressing this need with the help of technology. The genius of 412 Food Rescue lies in their app which allows everyone to become a part of the solution. And their solution is recruit volunteers to transport perishable food from restaurants and food suppliers to organizations who will serve it to people in need, thus reducing product waste while reducing hunger in our area. Using the application allows people who want to make a difference become involved at a moment’s notice and make a huge impact for typically less than 30 minutes of their time.
Anyone with a phone that has access to the iTunes App Store or Google Play can download Food Rescue Hero and then become one. And it is not time-consuming. You are simply transporting that food from one location to the next. Volunteers can use their own cars, bikes or even transport food by foot. The nonprofit also has partnered with Zipcar to provide free rides to volunteers. The built-in navigation system directs volunteers to the pickup and drop off locations.
Restaurants and others can send out an alert with very little time commitment. Food pantries and shelters receive the much needed donation. And the service that connects them is the average citizen who is empowered to make a world of difference in reducing waste and increasing the quality of life of fellow Americans fallen on hard times. The group partners with 200 nonprofits and more than 175 retailers, according to co-founder Leah Lizarondo, and boasts more than 1,000 volunteers.
Since starting 412 Food Rescue in March 2015, co-founder and CEO Leah Lizarondo wanted to approach food recovery in an innovative way and make the whole process efficient and sustainable. “Technology is germane to what we do,” she said. And what they do is working. They have rescued one million pounds of food in 20 months, leaders say, but the new app is designed for “everyone in Allegheny County who wants to volunteer when they have the time,” Ms. Lizarondo said. “It’s for everyone of us.”
Sachal Lakhavani and Ameesh Kapoor directed the development of the Food Rescue Hero app that connects hundreds of volunteers with food donations and directs them to delivery sites at local nonprofit organizations. “It’s like Uber for food. The app employs machine-learning algorithms to efficiently match available food to a beneficiary organization’s particular needs,” says Leah Lizarondo, 412 Food Rescue CEO.
Lizarondo grew up in the Philippines, specifically Manila, and moved to Brooklyn where she worked for a technology company. She moved to Pittsburgh after grad school at Carnegie Mellon University and writes the blog Brazen Kitchen. It is here she met Gisele Fetterman, the wife of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. Gisele was in charge of a surplus clothing outlet in Braddock for those in need called Free Store. Together, we felt the strong call to meet the needs of the many marginal people in this region.
And combating hunger is just the half of it. The organization rescues perishable food that cannot be sold by stores because it may be approaching the sell-by date or is misshapen. 412 Food Rescue also supports LOAF, which makes beer from wasted bread. In all of these ways, they are greatly reducing what would otherwise make its way into dumpsters and eventually landfills.
While the region has initiatives and organizations that work to tackle the hunger problem, none were effectively leveraging volunteers to move food from the donor to the provider, Lizarondo says.
“One of the reasons we’ve grown so quickly is our rescuers love social media,” said Lizarondo. “They not only do the work, but they share and spread the word and take selfies of themselves making deliveries. We are people-centric – our volunteers are reliable. We have a 99 percent pickup rate.”
The startup is funded through nonprofit support from The Hillman Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and BNY Mellon. Plans include developing an earned revenue model and delivering value-added food.
Want to be a food rescue hero? Download the app or look for an organization like 412 Food Rescue near you. Every day, however, we can all make simple choices to reduce waste.
Become a Hero at Home:
One way to Spring Clean this year is by taking active steps to reduce household waste. This can be down through the traditional venues of recycling and reusing. Many people have “swap parties” where they take their unwanted items and essentially shop the pre-used merchandise. Of course, whenever you can, donate what you have to a good cause.
When it comes to perishable products however, it can be much more challenging. You only have a window to share it, use it or lose it. Unfortunately, many of us get to that point only after it is too late. A little proactive planning can not only save a lot of waste, but hopefully, save you a lot of money. Changing our individual consumer habits can have a huge collective impact in the overall waste that we, as a first world nation, produce.
Plan your purchases. One of the main ways that we can combat waste is by not purchasing products that we have no plans to use. It takes a little more of a concerted effort before shopping, but honing your list to what you have the time and inclination to prepare are a huge factor. Have you overdone it with your shopping or cooking? Then take a page from farmers of old, and share the bounty. Take additional ingredients (or better yet) prepared meals and share what you cannot freeze with friends and neighbors.
Buy “ugly” produce. Another way to reduce waste is to purchase higher quality produce, sometimes ones that don’t have pristine appearances. Often, the farm fresh varieties have blemishes—give love to the produce others may overlook. Appearances often have little to do with taste. Rather than over consuming poor quality foods, focus your resources on the healthiest products available and eat proportionally.
Clean out that pantry. Before you shop, make sure that you are using up all of the items that may be due to expire soon. Take an afternoon to cook up all of those odds and ends into soups and other improvised meals. This encourages creativity and helps to prevent needless waste. Have fruit that’s going bad? Bake it into muffins, breads. Or better yet, make a smoothie!
Garden with a plan. If you’re a gardener, then there are many steps that you can take to plan and share your harvest in a way to make the most out of your growing season. Stagger your plantings so you are not overwhelmed with one crop at any given time. If this happens anyway, then take steps to preserve your harvest through freezing, canning and drying. Make arrangements to swap your abundance with someone else’s. By trading your bounty, you will both benefit. If all else fails, then compost those rotten veggies to ensure a better harvest next time around.