Eating places throw away a whole lot of meals. These volunteers choose it up first and take it to people who find themselves hungry.
“We had food in the fridge for about a week,” said Goody, who works as a hairdresser in a salon that is now closed. “I was thinking of things I would have to do to stretch our meals.”
With no income, the couple was relieved when the health department referred them to Prince William Food Rescue, a group that collects groceries that would otherwise be dumped by restaurants and grocery stores because they were about to run out.
“I was really surprised to find out they were going to bring us some groceries and it was all free,” said Goody.
Susan Evers, a volunteer with the food rescue group, called and told Goody that she would be ready with food in a day or two.
Evers brought groceries for two weeks until all family members recovered from covid-19.
“She left three boxes in front of our door with sweet potatoes, rice, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, tuna, cereal, pasta – even some chocolate donuts,” said Goody. “It made a huge difference to us during the quarantine.
“Susan even asked if she could bring pet food for our dog when she heard him bark through the door,” she added.
Evers, 65, is one of 18,000 volunteers using an app called Food Rescue Hero that connects them to places where they can pick up products, meat, dairy and ready-to-eat foods that are about to be thrown away.
The volunteers then deliver the donated goods to families in need in their communities or take them to local churches and pantries. In Prince William County, several national grocery chains as well as local stores like Todos Market in Dumfries contribute perishable items that are about to expire.
Evers travels regularly to Dumfries United Methodist Church to pick up groceries, as well as tacos and sandwiches from restaurants such as Zandras Taqueria, Nandos Peri-Peri, and Chick-fil-A. While families in need stop by the church to collect free groceries, people living in their home country receive supplies from Evers and other volunteers.
Nine cities and counties, including Prince William County, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are participating in the Food Rescue Hero program that began in Pittsburgh six years ago.
Leah Lizarondo, a Pittsburgh food writer who is now the CEO of Food Rescue Hero, said she developed the app after reading a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council that 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted.
“It was shocking to learn that almost half of our food is thrown away while people are starving,” said Lizarondo, 46. “I thought, ‘Where is this happening and why is no one solving this void?’ ”
Lizarondo investigated the waste problem and learned that one of the main reasons grocery stores and restaurants throw food away is because they have no way of distributing it. Getting it from point A to point B was a problem.
“I started thinking about how to move groceries and realized that we could use app technology like a DoorDash or Uber Eats model with volunteer drivers,” Lizarondo said. “We could match the drivers with someone in need near them.”
Anyone with 20 minutes to spare can log in and find a place to pick up excess food and be connected to a person or agency in need, she added.
“There is no need to plan ahead – people can pick up and deliver groceries anytime they have and how often they want,” Lizarondo said.
Despite the pandemic, most Food Rescue Hero volunteers are seniors, she said. In Prince William, 563 volunteers use the app to work with Prince William Food Rescue. They have delivered more than 10 million pounds of food to those in need across the country, according to the rescue group’s website.
When she first launched the app, Lizarondo said volunteers would mostly be millennials because of the app technology, but it turned out that seniors were the ones who got involved.
“While we have millennials saving food, most of our volunteers are seniors – especially early retirees who want to give back,” she said. “You have the flexibility to do this, and with contactless protocols it is completely secure.”
Evers said she became a Food Rescue Hero in April to help people who have lost incomes due to the pandemic.
Since then, the retired preschool teacher has estimated she did roughly 450 runs to pick up everything from fresh milk to deli sandwiches that would otherwise have been thrown away.
“I’m able to pay it up – I’m doing this because I can,” said Evers, who lives in Woodbridge. “And because I can, I should. Right now there are so many people in need who live hand to mouth. And selfishly that gets me out on the street. “
Local entrepreneurs say they are happy to help.
“We are fortunate to survive – our community has done us good,” said Victoria Wu, who owns Cakes by Happy Eatery in Manassas, Virginia. “It is important that we give something back to the community.”
Wu contributed everything from chicken pot pies to vegan chocolate cupcakes. Instead of donating leftovers, she and her crew prepare 100 to 150 meals from scratch every Thursday for families in need.
“Somebody looks at the app, then comes and picks it up. So all we have to do is cook,” said Wu, 52.
In Pittsburgh, Vincent Petti said he made more than 1,500 trips with his pickup truck to rescue large quantities of produce, baked goods and meat from local grocery stores. He then delivers it to several nonprofits for immediate distribution.
“I picked up 1,800 pounds of potatoes the other day,” said Petti, 70, a retired engineer. “I try to go out at least two or three days a week. I look at my own mortality and want to spend every time doing good things for people. “
Jake Holshuh from Los Angeles reflects this feeling.
Twice a week the retired veterinary pathologist picks up half a ton of donated groceries from Trader Joe’s in his neighborhood and then delivers the food to two charities for distribution.
“If you drive to a center and see 30 people in a row waiting for the food that you are about to hand in, it will take me home,” said Holshuh, 76.
Lizarondo said her goal is for Food Rescue Hero to operate in 100 cities within the next decade. She also hopes to expand internationally.
Vancouver, British Columbia, is already using the app with the help of thousands of volunteers, including Ann Moore, 81.
“I go to a local bakery all the time to pick up leftover muffins and croissants, and a pizzeria generously gives me their extra pizzas,” said Moore, a retired nurse who takes the food to a distribution center.
“It’s easy for me,” she said. “Especially when it is needed that way.”