Longmont Food Rescue: Taking on Hunger by Tackling Food Waste

If there are any two statistics that, when paired, are striking, if not exactly savory, representation of our culture today, they could be these: currently, 40% of edible food ends up in landfills; and, nearly 1 in 10 Coloradans struggles with food insecurity, not consistently having enough money to buy food. Of those struggling with hunger, nearly one in six households is occupied by young children. Food needs, food waste. A solution seems simple, but that’s deceptive. In fact, there are many obstacles preventing fresh, edible, healthy food that would otherwise go to waste from reaching those who need it most. Longmont Food Rescue, founded by volunteer Executive Director Kelly Mahoney, is working assiduously to change this.

Kelly Mahoney woke up January 1, 2017, determined to start the new year off right. The following day, she submitted the application to establish Longmont Food Rescue (LFR), a non-profit whose mission is to redistribute nutritious food that retailers have deemed food waste, to directly feed hungry, homeless and low-income populations. Her application was granted within two weeks.

Since receiving official non-profit status, to say Mahoney hit the ground running would be an understatement. She had been researching and preparing for her new role quite some time. But she knew the key to success was going to be a broad, community effort. “The team at Boulder Food Rescue helped enormously,” Mahoney says. “When the time came, I already had a lot mentally in place for how to get started.” LiveWell Longmont helped facilitate initial meetings with other numerous stakeholders–Community Food Share, OUR Center, and others already picking up edible food destined for landfills from local grocery stores. Mahoney is enormously grateful to Whole Foods for its generosity in donations, and to Lucky’s Market for providing financial support. Longmont Food Rescue is further part of the Food Rescue Alliance, an avenue of support and sharing of information which all food rescues across the country are welcome to join.

“Thereare organizations here in Longmont where some folks can seek services,” Mahoney says. “We’re all working together for the greater good. LFR’s job is to identify and help fill the gaps, not to take over others’ good works.” Where are those gaps? Turns out, there are many. For instance, Whole Foods donates unsold, edible food seven days a week–at this time the only local grocery store to do so. But most food redistributors aren’t able to pick up Sundays. Longmont Food Rescue does.

Many organizations supporting those struggling with food insecurity are bound by time-consuming regulations that in effect prevent good food from being redirected in time. In establishing Longmont Food Rescue, Mahoney is careful to keep free from many of those restrictions. Key to the mission, she says, is to be an ally for the community and for food equity. In saving perishable donations of fresh fruits and vegetables from grocers and retailers, LFR ensures the food reaches those who need it most that same day– no stigma, no forms, no questions asked.

With Longmont Food Rescue, food is always free, and recipients need not produce an ID, a barrier for many in need. “There are many requirements folks have to meet to get food,” Mahoney says. “And yet there is so much food waste. There are dumpsters that are overflowing. That needs to change.”

In working to effect positive change, the team at LFR organize to directly transfer food donations to those in need in various ways. True to the overarching ethos of sustainability, they deliver the old-fashioned way, as much as possible by bicycle. The fresh food is transported to neighborhoods, senior centers, partner sites and other aligned organizations such as Meals on Wheels, within an hour of donation. The food is then consumed within 24 hours. .  LFR holds monthly “Produce in the Park” events, pop-up style farmers’ markets where everyone is invited to take what they want or need. They assist community groups and individuals in setting up their own free grocery programs. . Joining forces with Fresh Food Connect, they are facilitating food donations from local gardeners who have surplus in their gardens. Gardeners can sign up at freshfoodconnect.org.

In 15 months that Longmont Food Rescue has been in operation, a staggering amount of good has been achieved, including over 11,000 lbs of food distributed into the community But Mahoney is far from complacent. For the organization to continue to flourish and grow, it needs support. “We need volunteers to complete the mission,” Mahoney says. “We need those seasoned activists to join our advisory board and of course, we always need people to pick up food, deliver, man events.”

Even if volunteering doesn’t quite fit in your schedule right now, there are simple ways to make a big difference. You can start by asking questions, something Mahoney makes a point of doing all the time. “I don’t have all the answers,” she says. “I think my strength is asking questions, listening to people and making connections around where people might be able to get assistance. Being an ally.”

What questions should we be asking? A good starting point, of course, is always by turning the mirror on ourselves. What can we do personally to eliminate food waste? Can we pay a little kindness forward in the summer with our bounty of homegrown produce? Another place to open up some gentle questioning? The grocery store. What happens to the unsold produce at the end of the day? Each grocery store can have as much as 300 pounds of edible food waste in a single day, Mahoney says. “Composting is great,” she adds, “but it’s a last resort before food goes in a landfill. In between having edible food and composting, there’s a really important step in donating food.”

It’s easy to be disheartened at the struggles of the world. But take heart–there is always something we can do. And it starts right here, at the community level. “There is always something we can do to help,” Mahoney says.

Learn more about Longmont Food Rescue and how you can help. Visit the Longmont Food Rescue website and follow them on Facebook.

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