One of the biggest tragedies in the United States is the amount of food that goes to waste every year. It’s estimated that 40% of all food produced in the country goes uneaten, where it makes up the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste in our landfills. Of course, this also leads to methane emissions, which is a greenhouse gas much more potent than CO2. The economic impact of food waste, if you were to put it in monetary terms, exceeds $165 billion dollars per year, which is why the U.S. federal government has put a tax incentive in place for food donations. These numbers are especially disheartening considering that around 48 million men, woman, and children live in food insecure households.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to interview Katy Jordan, the Communications Director at Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a non-profit organization who works on the front lines of food rescue in Boston. She became employed by Lovin’ Spoonfuls after being a friend of the organization for many years. Prior to her position in the company she made media content for their website. It goes to show you job seekers out there, becoming familiar with an organization and its people leads to great opportunities. Hey wait… I’m a job seeker!
Lovin’ Spoonfuls works at the top of the “food waste pyramid,” which lists the preferred order of importance for each step we can take to reduce food waste. Clearly, reducing waste at the source is most efficient way in which we can limit food waste, but in a society with hungry people, feeding those who are food insecure is also very important. That’s where Lovin’ Spoonfuls comes in! They facilitate the collection and distribution of fresh foods to those homeless shelters, crisis centers, and other non-profit organizations to feed those in need.
Me: I just heard about Lovin’ Spoonfuls a couple days ago actually, and that you’re also located in my neighborhood of Allston/Brighton.
Katy: Yeah, we just moved offices from Back Bay to Brighton, where we were for the last several years. We were really excited to get this space in such a wonderful, up-and-coming area of Boston.
Me: So tell me a little bit about Lovin’ Spoonfuls?
Katy: We basically partner with a lot of retail vendors, like supermarkets located all over Greater Boston and the MetroWest area, in addition to farmer’s markets, farms, and produce wholesalers. As a matter of fact, right now we’re in peak harvest season, so we’re picking up every day from farms. On the other side of our business, we call those who receive the donations “beneficiaries.” There are over 100 beneficiary agencies that we distribute to.
Also, we don’t store anything at our offices. Instead, we operate refrigerated trucks, and do a same-day distribution. Every day, we make pick-ups and deliveries, primarily working with perishable foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, and a lot of dairy. Of course, these things are time sensitive items. When people hear the term “food rescue” they might scratch their heads, but there is a timeliness factor that’s really critical. This is why same-day distribution is so important. We pick up the food in the morning and by the afternoon we are at one of the hundred or so non-profits that feed Boston’s hungry. The goal is to get the fresh food immediately into someone’s stomach.
We collect over 7,000 pounds of unsellable food every day among our 6 trucks, so we’re diverting a lot of food from going to the landfill. Still, there is certainly more food out there to be rescued. I think overall that the food waste problem is becoming a little bit more understood and ubiquitous to people.
Me: How do you go about making these new connections with the vendors who donate, as well as the people who benefit?
Katy: Fortunately, right now, we’ve been in operation long enough that people are now coming to us. There is a contact form on our website for both vendors (like supermarkets) or beneficiaries (like homeless shelters). These organizations are reaching out to us to explore potential partnerships.
Early on, we visited grocery stores, asking if they had any interest in donating their unsellable food items. They get to see that their food doesn’t get thrown out, and that it’s still perfectly good for hungry people to eat. Also, they receive a tax deduction for donating food, so really it’s a win win for these businesses. Before our reputation grew, early on, we had to make them aware that there’s no liability to be worried about.
Overall, it’s a good business decision for them. They are addressing the food that would otherwise be wasted, they’re preventing it from being throw into the landfill, and they’re feeding people in their communities. That’s another thing: Our vendors and our beneficiaries are generally in the same communities. And on top of all that, they are receiving a tax deduction, which is smart from a financial perspective.
Me: So that’s how you would make your formal sales pitch to potential vendors?
Katy: It’s a three pronged solution. Businesses feel good about donating food to hungry people. So there’s a human impact. It’s nice knowing that the otherwise perfectly good food isn’t being thrown in the landfill. So there’s the positive environmental impact. Finally, there’s the incentive that businesses will enjoy a federal tax break when donating food. So there’s the positive bottom line impact. When speaking to new vendors, we generally inform them of these realities.
Me: I believe that’s what they call the triple bottom line?
Me: Do you ever bring to their attention the MassDEP commercial organic waste ban that came into effect in 2014, which states that it’s illegal to dispose one ton or more of organic waste per week?
Katy: Yes we do, and most vendors are pretty aware of it already. That was one other thing that the state did to incentivize businesses on the retail level to address their food waste issue.
Me: Is Lovin’ Spoonfuls looking to expand past their current capacity in the near future?
Katy: Absolutely. For the first five years of our business, we were operating in Greater Boston, but serving many neighborhoods throughout. This year we added another route to our service, and now we’re serving MetroWest. That has added thousands more people that are being served.
Me: Does that mean you would expand your fleet of trucks as well?
Katy: Certainly. Any given day, our trucks are at capacity. We would love to expand our fleet.
Me: How does Lovin’ Spoonfuls acquire their funding?
Katy: We acquire funding through a traditional non-profit fundraising model, where we rely on fundraising events, grants, and foundation support.
Me: What are the main challenges that you face?
Katy: Like any non-profit out there, there are challenges in day-to-day operations with a small staff. We have a big responsibility to the people we serve. Still, we manage to accomplish a lot of work. You always wish you had three more sets of hands, more people answering phones, or staff making partnerships.
Also, there is the challenge of meeting the needs of our community. When there are interested beneficiaries out there looking for food you want to be able to grow to meet those needs.
Me: Is there any food that the beneficiaries don’t accept?
Katy: Before the food arrives to the beneficiaries the drivers do any vetting that needs to take place for quality assurance. They are trained and Serv-Safe certified in handling food.We don’t accept product that’s after a sell-by date, or anything that doesn’t meet our standard of quality.
For example, we might get nine boxes of whole organic milk that’s five days from its sell-by date. The reality is that the supermarket had to take it off their shelves due to their own best practices. They don’t like to keep dairy on their shelves that is anywhere close to the sell-by date in order to serve their own customers’ satisfaction. The byproduct of this though, is that there’s a lot of dairy that’s perfectly good within the sell-by date…. The same is true for eggs. We get a lot of eggs that are near the sell-by date or past it that are still good.
I just want to be clear, because people tend to have this notion that the food that is rescued is in less-than pristine condition. I mean, there may be some bruises on the apples and bananas sometimes, but beyond minor blemishes it’s in good shape and carries all its nutritional value.
Me: Do you feel that Lovin’ Spoonfuls receives a lot of support from the local community and the city government?
Katy: Absolutely. We’ve worked with communities all over Boston, and have built wonderful relationships with them. The food we are delivering is serving over 15,000 people every week, so I think we are pretty deeply connected into communities and our partner agencies. We definitely feel very privileged to pick up and deliver food to people every day. It’s nice getting to see the faces of those who rely on the food we deliver.
Also, we do have an active presence on Beacon Hill, where we consistently meet with state reps and state senators, talking to them about the work that we do. There are a lot of relationships still to be made, but we find ourselves busy on the public affairs side of things.
Me: I love your mission, and want to help anyway I can. Are there volunteer opportunities with Lovin’ Spoonfuls?
Katy: Currently, we don’t rely on volunteers, despite receiving a lot of interest. Our partners, on the other hand, are looking for volunteers, so we’re in the process of trying to divert some of the interest to agencies who could really use it.
Me: Okay. Keep me posted. One last question…. Do you like your job?
“I love it,” Katy responded without a hint of doubt in her voice.