The Unsung Hero of Food Recovery: The Food Rescuer

 Justin, one of Replate’s Bay Area Food Rescuers.

Justin, one of Replate’s Bay Area Food Rescuers.

From wasted water and labor to food in landfills producing methane gas to billions of dollars wasted nationally, food waste and loss comes at a very high cost to our people and our planet. Although this occurs all along the supply chain, what gives us hope are the many amazing innovations trying to lessen the amount of food entering the waste stream.

One of these emerging food waste solutions is food rescue, which was born from recognizing that edible surplus food can easily be rescued and shared among the 42 million Americans experiencing food insecurity. Food rescue organizations like Replate ensure that that surplus food reaches communities by relying on one irreplaceable constant — Food Rescuers to transport the food from place to place. We answered some common questions about Food Rescuers below to share more about what they do, the challenges they face, and why they ultimately are the real heroes in food rescue.

What exactly is a Food Rescuer?

A Food Rescuer is someone who delivers extra food from businesses or events to communities in need. They pack food for transportation and typically use their vehicles to bring the food from one place to the next. The food they rescue varies in quantity and variety, but is always perfectly good food that someone else can enjoy.

Food Rescuers can be anyone that has a valid driver’s license, a vehicle, the capacity to lift trays of food, and a desire to make a direct difference in their community. The Food Rescuers on the Replate team were inspired to help us in our mission to redirect food from the waste stream and give it back to communities who need it.

What are the rewards of being a Food Rescuer?

People get into food rescue because it is meaningful and worth their time. Many are driven to become a Food Rescuer primarily because they want to give back to their community. One of Replate’s long term food rescuers told us that she likes getting up everyday to do something. Another Food Rescuer said that making each drop off “is inspiring and the gratitude of the recipients is amazing to see.”

Food Rescuers are also tired of seeing food waste happen on such a massive scale. Another one of Replate’s Food Rescuers worked in the service industry for 10 years. He wanted to step away from contributing to food waste and redirect his efforts to saving food from being wasted.

 Replate lead Food Rescuer, Matt, dropping off a donation.

Replate lead Food Rescuer, Matt, dropping off a donation.

What challenges do Food Rescuers face?

Food Rescuers run into a few recurring challenges while out in the field. Here are a few of the biggest ones and how donors might be able to help:

  • Parking: The biggest challenge is parking! Many businesses are in downtown areas of major cities and do not have access to convenient parking. Sometimes the donation pickup can be pretty hefty, and without easy parking, more time is spent on logistics rather than rescuing food. Donors can make Food Rescuers’ jobs easier by sharing parking tips in their pick up description or getting permission from their building for temporary loading dock use.

  • Access: Offices or event venues sometimes have multiple points of secured access or require key cards, especially if they’re in a shared building. This leaves the Food Rescuer to make one or more phone calls just to get inside and can result in delays. To ensure easy entry for your Food Rescuer and saved time for all, make sure to communicate with your entire office that a Food Rescuers will be arriving. If possible, have a contact person prepared to meet a Food Rescuer when they arrive and guide them to where the donation is located.

  • Preparation: Food that isn’t ready for transportation can lead to inefficiencies in the food rescue process. If a Food Rescuer has to track down the proper packing equipment from the donor, that’s precious time wasted for all. Donors can support Food Rescuers by following the donation guidelines provided when setting their pick up request.

 A great example of a donation ready to be transported!

A great example of a donation ready to be transported!

Why are they awesome?

Food Rescuers are one of the most crucial pieces to the food waste reduction puzzle. They are on the ground everyday doing the physical work to get food to the people in need of it. Food Rescuers go inside of businesses or events and meet the compassionate folks who donate their food. This work allows them to have the privilege of seeing that same food turn into smiles on faces of the people who receive it. By physically going to both the donor and recipient locations, Food Rescuers build a community that would have otherwise not been connected. They are the receiver and messenger of stories as they create relationships with everyone involved, including the Replate HQ team. The observations and feedback they receive, turns into improvements in efficiency in the overall operation of food rescue.

 Replate’s bicycle Food Rescuer, Tyler!

Replate’s bicycle Food Rescuer, Tyler!

Next time you see a Food Rescuer at your business, event, or loading/unloading a food donation, say hi and give them a high five for their work! Or ask them what drew them to food rescue and why they love it! Food Rescuers are doing that labor needed to support our neighbors’ access to food and reducing surplus in the process!

Without Food Rescuers, this work would not be possible!

Jen Fedrizzi