America is a nation that is marked by abundance: abundant resources, abundant land and abundant waste. According to the EPA, Americans generated 34 million tons of food waste in 2010 alone. And yet, America still has children who go hungry every day. No Kid Hungry estimates that one in five kids (16.1 million) struggle with hunger. This number is likely to increase with ever-increasing food prices. How is it possible that so many go hungry while so much is essentially going to feed the land fill? Some believe that a large part of the problem is food distribution, and one group in Colorado has stepped up to help limit the impact of a broken food system.
Boulder Food Rescue (BFR) is a non-profit organization that was started in 2011. In a little more than a year it has gone from someone’s idea to a powerful force for change in Boulder, and increasingly, throughout the country. BFR works by connecting grocery stores, farms and community gardens, with at-risk and food-insecure communities.
Every day in Boulder, you can find someone riding a bike, or (on rare occasion) driving a car, taking food from a grocery store or farm to a food bank or non-profit. The food they are delivering would otherwise be discarded and is instead redirected to a person’s empty stomach. This isn’t just a little food, either — to date, they have “rescued” 174,662 pounds of food from 18 partnering stores, and delivered to 42 agencies, food banks and communities.
Why and how does this work? What BFR did that others were unable to do before was bring consistency to food delivery systems. Every day at the same time a store can expect volunteers from BFR to pick up their perishable goods and deliver them to the donation recipient within an hour. Disposing of food that is close to expiring is part of the routine for every store, so BFR jumped into the regular routine, and changed one simple step — the trash can.
Stores are able to consistently donate food while it is still edible, and it will be delivered and donated while it is still fit for human consumption. This is huge when you consider that liability is a major deterrent for stores to donate food. When the food is at its peak, and the stores are donating it in good consciousness, they fall under the “Good Samaritan Act” and help to provide some coverage for well meaning businesses to make donations to non-profits. Regular pick up times makes it easy for stores to ensure that they are donating food while it’s at its peak.
Volunteers log the weight and types of food they pick up. This helps BFR keep track of what they are rescuing, who they are serving and how much of an impact they are able to have on the community. They make an effort to provide recipients with healthy, fresh foods, and have been able to track their nutritional impacts in addition to their impact on the waste stream.
Boulder is just one community, but this is something that people could do anywhere. There are already movements toward replicating this food distribution system in Oakland, Calif., Lawrence Kan., and Denver, Colo. A group of inexperienced college students started BFR, and made their system so easy to replicate that a dedicated and passionate group of people in any city could start their own food rescue. Who knows, maybe before anyone notices, America will be a nation that is marked by a new abundance — an abundance of donation-based food distribution systems.