It’s no news that America is one of the largest waste generators in the world—just take a look at a Portland, Oregon dump a day after Christmas to refresh your memory.
But how far have we gone? According to a March 2013 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. wastes around 40 percent of all edible food. While a big chunk of this waste is generated by private homes, restaurants and grocery stores across the country add a hefty contribution (86 billion and 43 billion pounds, respectively, in 2008).
These alarming numbers—paired with population of those going homeless and hungry in the states—are the leading reason 25-year-old Hana Dansky decided to co-found the country’s first food “rescue and redistribution” nonprofit, Boulder Food Rescue.
“After learning about the national problem with waste, I did research locally,” says Hana. “There was enough food thrown away in Boulder County to feed the county’s entire homeless population—which was crazy. So we did something about it.”
Hana, along with two other friends, started talking to local grocery stores and homeless shelters in 2011 to see how they could connect the two. Soon the small team began pedaling trailer-toting bikes between multiple grocery stores, cafes, shelters, soup kitchens and residents for at-risk community members. They had become the missing link.
“It’s great how willing most store managers were to contribute and how badly the community needed their excess food,” Hana says. “Filling that gap makes all the difference.”
Now, 150 volunteers, 16 regular donors and a 501(c) 3 certification later—and the thriving Boulder Food Rescue is ready to share their model with other communities in need.
Why you might like to try this
- Shrinks waste. Sure, this is an obvious one, but the national statistics alone make it a convincing reason to kickstart your own food rescuing system. Why toss a shelf of day-old bread or a box of barely wilted lettuce in the trash when others are pinching pennies to make a sandwich?
- Supplies those in need. Hana says that a recent survey done by Boulder’s largest shelter revealed that 66 percent of its dining hall’s produce comes directly from Boulder Food Rescue. “It’s amazing to positively influence the diet of so many people who need it,” she says. “And the need is definitely out there.”
- Strengthens community. Since the food rescue got off the ground, a handful of community members have offered their varied help to keep it rolling. “Not only have we connected food to those who need it, we’ve seen this community open up as a resource, offering skills and their passion for others without a second thought,” says Hana.
How you can replicate it
- Build donor trust. Hana says that create strong and trusting relationships with grocery store and restaurant managers is the trickiest part of her work. She avoids major chains, based on their overarching restrictions on donations, and focuses primarily on local food sources. “Usually,” says Hana, “we can sit down with the store managers in person and talk about our mission and process—specifically how they aren’t responsible for any of the food after its picked up.”
- Know your rights. Many potential donors shy away to avoid potential conflict with FDA regulations. But, Hana says, the national 1996 Good Samaritan Act—allowing businesses to donate food to nonprofits without claiming any responsibility—strengthens most donors’ interest. Plus, nonprofit donations benefit businesses when tax season rolls around.
- Follow a method. Boulder Food Rescue now offers a straightforward and relatable online guidebook to creating a food rescue program in any community, with tips on everything from money management to grocery store relationships.
Want to bring a similar model to where you live? Hana encourages anyone interested in starting their own operation to get in touch with them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.