The concept is simple enough. Globally, up to 40 percent of usable food is wasted a day. And yet, one in seven people don’t have enough to eat.
So, connect the food to the people.
Logistically, it’s a little trickier. That’s where the Pittsburgh- based nonprofits 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero swoop in.
“Good food belongs to people, not landfills,” said David Primm, head of partnerships and growth with 412 Food Rescue.
Started in Pittsburgh’s 412 area code about six years ago, this PFMA associate member works to get usable, perishable food items to its community. “We’re preventing perfectly good food from going to waste and redirecting that to people who are food insecure,” Primm said.
The best part—food retailers are in a perfect position to help. “Nearly half of the food that’s wasted is actually wasted at consumer-facing businesses. That’s your members, that’s grocery stores and other retail outlets, it’s restaurants and institutions,” said Jennifer England, senior director of partner success. “We make sure that food gets to people who need it by leveraging our technology to reach out to volunteers so they can take it to where it needs to go.”
412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero make this process easy for their partners, in part, thanks to well-designed technology. Food rescue can be labor intensive without the right tools, England said. With such a highly distributed network, it’s inefficient to schedule truck pickups for small quantity donations at multiple locations. Fortunately, England said the organization’s cofounder has a background in tech startup and created the Food Rescue Hero app. This purpose-driven technology makes it easy to connect food retailers, volunteers and community members in need.
A food recover program using 412 Food Rescue’s technology and operations has no downside. There’s no value to food in the garbage.
“We have over 12,000 volunteers in our network, and by using our technology, we can let them know, ‘Hey, there’s food available at this grocery store that needs to go to this low-income housing site, can you pick it up?’” she said.
That technology allows them to increase their impact. 412 Food Rescue generally covers the 412 Pittsburgh and Allegheny County area code. By using the Food Rescue Hero app, they are able to extend their reach and work with 13 cities in the U.S. and Canada, three of which cover new service areas in Pennsylvania.
The organization also is very agile, working hard to keep the food rescue process simple. Instead of telling partners they have to bend to the schedule of 412 Food Rescue, England said they ask donors what works best for them. “We want to serve our partners whether it’s our food donors, our nonprofit partners or our volunteers. We want to meet our partners where they need us.”
As food insecurity intensified over the course of the pandemic, the nonprofit shifted and evolved its operations. Access to good food became more important than ever. Just as many consumers relied on grocery delivery, 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero began making home deliveries. This change provided a way to get quality food to the most vulnerable populations.
In its sixth year of operation, Primm said they’ve reached a major milestone. “We just hit that 20-million-pound mark here in our region. That’s through the great effort and support of our food donors and a lot of the PFMA members.”
One PFMA sponsor and member, Giant Eagle, joined 412 Food Rescue as a food donor in 2019. They already have recovered 2 million pounds of food.
Primm and England have heard many myths and misconceptions surrounding food donation. Some businesses think they have no food to donate. Others fear a lawsuit from potentially getting someone sick. And some donors have been burned before from volunteer no-shows. That is where 412 Food Rescue can provide their expertise on everything from food preparation to tracking donation pickups and dropoffs to laws that protect food donors.
Primm said one of the most common misconceptions about food donation is that potential food donors don’t realize how much food they are able to donate. When 412 Food Rescue consults with food retailers, the retailers often are surprised to hear the results.
Recently, when Primm approached a PFMA member about food donation, they explained they had nothing to provide. After speaking with the produce and baking managers, he helped the store identify items that could be donated. Within two weeks, that store donated 3,500 pounds of food, which equates to 3,000 meals. The retailer saved usable food from being wasted, provided nutritious food to those in need and gained financial benefits from the donation through tax incentives.
“There is zero value in wasted food,” Primm said, “but together, working with your members and other food donor partners, we’re able to create this value that impacts the entire community.”
England encourages anyone who remains on the fence about food donation to try it firsthand as a volunteer by downloading the Food Rescue Hero app. “A food recovery program using 412 Food Rescue’s technology and operations has no downside,” England said. “There’s no value to food in the garbage. It’s a win-win-win to donate food."
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2021? My top priority remains closing Pennsylvania’s digital divide by bringing high-speed broadband internet to every home across the Commonwealth. I’m also focused on protecting our energy jobs in the coal and gas industries and fixing our broken property tax system so we can fairly fund education.
What are the important issues facing your district? As highlighted in the most recent Census data, the rural and industrial areas of Pennsylvania are losing population. It’s imperative that we find a solution to grow our tax base and keep people here with good paying, family sustaining jobs. We can do that by investing in our infrastructure, expanding broadband service and running new water and sewer lines to keep the next generation here in older portions of the Commonwealth that once relied heavily on the coal and steel industries. It starts with keeping the coal and steel jobs we still have, and then diversifying our economy to include new business growth.
Where do you shop locally for food? My family has shopped at the locally owned Giant Eagle in Dry Tavern, Greene County, for many years. The Throckmorton family owns two Giant Eagle’s in my district, and my family sometimes makes a stop several times a week to pick up what we need. I grew up in the Dry Tavern community and having this grocery store here is a major asset to all of us.
What is your favorite vacation destination? The beach! My husband Jack and I love to take our kids and grandkids to the Carolinas in the summer for a family vacation. There is nothing more relaxing than a quiet afternoon listening to the waves and a giggle or two from the grandkids. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have canceled our vacations, but we are itching to get back to the water next year.
I’m proud to say I’m a middle-of-the-road legislator that works with both sides of the aisle on any issue.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? The grocery store owners are quick to tell you that they need employees. Most people know that it has been difficult for many small businesses to find employees to run their stores over the last several months. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, grocery stores were slammed as restaurants closed and people were afraid to dine out. Those essential workers are now facing fatigue and burn-out, and there isn’t a line of workers waiting to relieve them. I’m hopeful, as we continue to conquer the pandemic and the economy recovers, that people will be looking for work and can fill these roles.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? I have several achievements of which I’m proud, but I’m particularly proud of my legislation for corrections officers. My district contains two state prisons that employ thousands of corrections officers and staff. On a tour of SCI-Fayette, the corrections officers asked me to get them a pepper spray mechanism to combat violent prisoners. We passed legislation that gave those officers that spray and they say it’s made their jobs safer, protected them, and curbed violence inside the walls.
The biggest challenge remains the partisan politics that haunt the Capitol. I’m proud to say I’m a middle-of-the-road legislator that works with both sides of the aisle on any issue. Too often, my colleagues get caught up in talking points, speeches and what plays best on social media for them back home. I wish we could turn the cameras off and just get some work done. That’s what the people who elected us sent us here to do.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? My husband Jack is the cook in our house. The man can whip up just about anything, but his chicken and noodles from scratch are to die for! I’m thankful that with my schedule, he makes sure there is dinner on the table. I love to make my mother’s homemade bun recipe. You can use those buns with just about anything. At Christmas time, the family can’t wait for my peanut butter balls and nut rolls.
What do you like to do for fun? We live on my husband’s century-old family farm. Our daughters have built houses on the property and have raised their kids there. We just love having them so close, spending time with them and our grandchildren whether in the barn or in the pool.