Imagine a restaurant with delicious, healthy food. The chefs prepare enough to serve hundreds of people daily, but often, good resources are thrown out and left to rot in a landfill. Meanwhile, 11.1 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at least some time during 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including 5.6 million households with very low food security.
In an effort to combat this reality, Food Rescue US is taking action to prevent food waste and combat food insecurity with the help of technology. This year, the nonprofit has recovered around 730,000 meals, and since October 2016, the organization has recovered 2 million pounds of food. This recovered food amounts to $3.5 million, a staggering amount and a point of pride that shows how the organization’s efforts benefit its respective communities.
“[Food Rescue US] helps address food waste and hunger,” says DC site director Kate Urbank. “[Approximately] 40 million people, including 12 million children, are food insecure in the U.S. If we could take more of the food being wasted and direct it to folks who are food insecure, it solves two problems: it [reduces] methane gases from food rotting in landfills, which is a huge contributor to climate change, [and the food is] redirected to people who are food insecure.”
Places that donate food include one-off catered conferences that do not want to throw out premade food, restaurants and even organizations like the World Bank. Receiving agents may be places that serve the homeless or local women’s shelters. One of Urbank’s goals is to find agencies that are not well-known about around the District and can benefit from the organization’s services.
Want to help the organization? There’s an app for that. The Food Rescue US app uses an algorithm to match food donors and agents who have a surplus of resources with nearby receiving agencies and organizations that feed people. Urbank uses the app to help coordinate efforts with volunteers known as food rescuers, who transport surplus food from food donors to receiving agencies.
A third version of the app is under development, and the update will make for a more seamless and interactive experience. However, for now there is a need for a human intermediary, and Urbank sits at the helm where she conducts conversations with donors once they sign up.
“I know these folks well enough to either email or text my posse and tell them we need to go out to [a location] because it is not covered,” she says. “Usually, someone steps up. Sometimes, I will write to my donor and say, ‘Can you hold the food until tomorrow morning, and I will get someone there tomorrow?’”
Failure to deliver food from donors to receiving agencies is not an option. When a match happens, a food rescuer is enlisted to ensure pickup and delivery. People use different modes of transportation, including a wagon, to rescue the food. The time it takes to participate is roughly 30 minutes to an hour, and anyone can try volunteering once to see if they enjoy it.
“Some people do one rescue and maybe never do it ever again,” Urbank continues. “Some people do it three times a month. Some people do it [two or] three times a week. It is up to the individual to opt in. You can schedule yourself.”
Food Rescue US is one of many organizations offering a solution to America’s food waste problem. With a hand-to-hand operation, donors can see financial benefits and food rescuers can actively help their community by ensuring that receiving agencies provide hungry people with food that would otherwise be discarded.
“[Food Rescue US] is about offering an option: a solution for businesses that want to donate their food and have not had the time or the knowledge to know where to take it,” Urbank adds.
For more info about volunteering with Food Rescue US and to download the app, visit www.foodrescue.us.