#DoPublicGood is a project highlighting people or organizations that do good by bike. Each month we’ll be shining a spotlight on those who enrich communities all over through their two-wheeled advocacy. You can read our past #DoPublicGood profiles here.
If you have a nominee for #DoPublicGood, please let us know in the comments and if selected we’ll send you both a PUBLIC gift certificate.
This month we’re interviewing Amy from Denver Food Rescue about how they are using the sustainable method of bicycle power to save good produce from grocery stores, farmers markets, and distributors that would otherwise be thrown away. They then redistribute it to people in their community who need it most by partnering with those communities to create a range of programs. Amy tells us more about this process and the programs that are helping to not just feed the hungry but to increase their health equity.
Your tagline is to ‘Decrease food waste. Increase health equity.’ Can you tell us more about what this means?
AMY: Well, 30-50% of edible food in the US ends up in the landfill. A lot of what goes to waste from grocery stores is fresh fruits and vegetables. Due to their short shelf life it can be a challenge for traditional food banks or pantries to transport and store them. Historically food banks offer mostly nonperishable (boxed, packaged, canned) items. These foods are often high in calories but low in nutrients in addition to being high in sugar, additives, salt, and other by products of highly processed foods. These foods fill bellies but don’t really nourish minds and bodies.
For people experiencing poverty, purchasing fresh foods is a challenge due to their higher costs and families must often choose to pay the bills over buying healthy food for their families. Also many low income neighborhoods around the country lack full service grocery stores which contributes to barriers to accessing healthful food. When you add up all of these barriers there is a system that creates a health gap between people, particularly low-income people and people of color and they disproportionally experience a higher rate of diet related illnesses.
There is no blanket solution to improve the health of our communities. While getting some of these otherwise wasted fruits and veggies into the homes of those who need it is important, it is also important to create a sustainable system of health which includes education around healthy eating and job opportunities that allow people to afford the cost of healthier food, which is really the root cause of hunger.
How does your organization increase access to food for those who need it?
AMY: We increase access by addressing identified barriers to access. In Denver we found that pantries were not usually located directly in the communities where they were needed most. This creates a transportation barrier that could be avoided if they were more strategically placed.
In addition to location barriers traditional pantries are frequently in more affluent neighborhoods, they require IDs, proof of income, and might not be culturally competent which creates stigma and less participation. That’s why we do direct distribution (from food donor to food recipient) and have all of our grocery programs led by residents of the neighborhoods themselves at existing community organizations! This increases participation, decreases stigma, and involves everyone in the process. Instead of an older nonprofit white savior top down model. We are all in this together to solve this problem.
In 2017 we rescued and redistributed over 500,000 lbs of food – over 75% of it whole produce. 99% was perishable foods. Out of 36,000 people that utilized our programs, 80% didn’t access other no cost food services.
What about the rest of your formula for healthy equality?
AMY: Creating access to the education each person needs to make informed health decisions is a big one. It is important for both food insecure people as well as food secure folks to understand the current system and pressure to eat foods that contribute to diet related illness. For example some of our programs have cooking and nutrition classes that go along with our food at distributions.
We have Fresh Food Connect, a program developed in partnership with Denver Urban Gardens and Groundwork Denver that picks up and redistributions local gardeners extra produce to food insecure areas. We are able to employ community members to do these pick ups. Another program we are just starting in partnership with a business called Copia will allow us to employ folks with barriers to employment to do prepared food rescue pick ups!
Why use bicycles to deliver the food?
AMY: Glad you asked! We use bikes to deliver food for a few reasons. For one it’s much cheaper, which makes it so that we can afford to do more quick, direct deliveries. This enables us to deliver more healthy food like fresh produce rather than canned foods, etc. Also, some of the communities we partner with are some of the most polluted in the country. In 2016 we saved an estimated 8 tons of CO2 emissions by biking! And also biking is more fun! It makes volunteer solicitations and outreach easier because people are looking for a fun way to volunteer (and is a great work out at the same time!).
What are some ways people can get involved with your organization in the Denver area or in others like it in their own area?
AMY: Education and awareness are still the most important. If you are interested in anti-hunger work, healthy food access, or reducing food waste try to find out what systems are in place that are either not addressing the root cause of these problems or actively harming smaller independent food rescue and pantry groups. There are smaller food rescue groups similar to us all over the country, find yours and volunteer! If one doesn’t exist, create your own with help of the Food Rescue Alliance, which is set up to help people begin community centered food rescue and re-distribution in their own community.