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."