Dana: I have been a wedding & event photographer for 21 years and have seen too much food that was absolutely consumable go to waste. For a long time, I thought it was "the nature of the biz” - one of those "necessary evils" that we face in our professions. But then I learned that food donation was legal and also encouraged by the IRS. I co-founded an initiative within the local events industry to educate venues and caterers about the laws and logistics of food donation and tried to connect them with local human service organizations who provide food to those in need. But an ongoing challenge was that these organizations could not actually drive to recover the food! I wound up meeting Robert Lee, co-founder of RLC and eventually joined the RLC team in 2017 in order to grow their (at the time) small Massachusetts branch, alongside Massachusetts Branch Head Lauren Basler. Our branch is now the 2nd largest in the country, and Lauren and I are thrilled!
SFB: What are the biggest challenges you see for the fight against food waste?
Dana: There are a few challenges which are "standards" in the world of reducing wasted food:
1. Many food recipients don't know that they can accept excess prepared food and are not familiar with the Emerson Act. They are afraid to accept and serve this food, yet their guests would absolutely utilize this food if given the opportunity. One of my goals is to host community meetings with those who run these organizations to educate them on food safety.
2. On the same note, most businesses are afraid to donate excess food because they fear liability issues, at times even after being educated on ServSafe guidelines and the Emerson Act.
3. Businesses do not want to "change their ways." Making change takes time. Time is money. They are a business, not a non-profit - so shifting this mindset is an ongoing education and challenge (which I welcome)!
4. Many businesses believe they do not need to donate excess food if they compost. It's easier to compost. I try to educate them that, in the case that the food is consumable, "the banana should be donated - it's only the peel that belongs in the compost."
5. "The Juggle:" sometimes, we have too many donor partners and not enough volunteers. Other times, we have volunteers upset because all of the rescues are taken and they can't participate. So it's a constant balancing act and a challenge that we welcome and charge through over time!
Dana: Any business that has excess prepared food that is consumable, even if not sellable. Since we are strictly volunteer based, we target smaller-scale excess food (up to 200-300 pounds in general) and the majority of our rescues are under 100 pounds. We have no minimum requirement for pickup: we will pick up as little as 5 pounds of food. We don't see it as 5 pounds. We see it as 5 pounds and many opportunities!
SFB: What is your relationship with other local food rescue organizations?
Dana: We prefer to "complement and not compete" with other local organizations such as Lovin' Spoonfuls, Food For Free, Daily Table, Boston Area Gleaners, etc. The work they do is equally important yet quite different from what we do. They are recovering mostly fresh food or large scale prepared food. Some of them have trucks and staff to handle large quantities. I actually hosted a roundtable discussion at the Environmental Protection Agency last year to get us all on the same page. I wanted to make it clear to them that we are here to "fill in the gaps" and not compete. We refer them, they refer us, and we complement each other to reduce wasted food and educate donors and recipients.
SFB: What is the most interesting creation you've seen (or made yourself!) from rescued food?
Dana: Daily Table amazes me. What their chefs are able to prepare from excess food that would have otherwise gone to waste is amazing...they are an inspiration!
Dana: I recently brought food from one of our donor partners to their designated recipient: Sister Rose's in New Bedford, MA, a church shelter for those without a permanent home. As always, I pulled my car up to the back door and the staff and guests greeted me to take the food out of my car: a combination of salads, sandwiches, breakfast foods, fruit and veggie bowls - really good, quality food from a cafeteria of a local business. Everyone was so excited about the food - I hear "ooooh" and "aaah" from everyone. And then I hear one of the guests say (paraphrasing): "I can attest that this is healthy, quality food. I made it this morning!" I had to do a double-take: it was one of the chefs from the cafeteria I just rescued the food from. The last time I saw him was at the establishment in his "official" uniform. Now it was night time, he was in a baseball cap, and in a different element. I was surprised to see him and asked, “Are you working here?!" His answer was that he was staying there temporarily and that he was so grateful for Sister Rose's and also for this food - that he just happened to make that morning!
This experience jumps out at me because when I am educating people about RLC, I always highlight that food insecurity is more common than generally acknowledged: the food insecure person could be your next door neighbor or the person in front of you in line at the bank. This man has a good job at a great business, and he was the recipient of his own created food at a time he needed it most.
One quote that I love: Our guests range from full-time working women who cannot make ends meet for their families to women living in shelters, cars, or on the streets. On an average morning, we serve women on their way to work in scrubs, and guests who literally only have the clothes on their back… Our guests are resilient, inventive and determined to help their families thrive. Without food donors, these women and their families would have one less resource and may have to resort to skipping meals… - Sharon Briggs, Rosie’s Place
SFB: How would you like to see the Boston community more engaged in the food waste fight?
Dana: Don't get me started. Haha! Education needs to happen in three different ways: to the potential food donor partners, to the potential volunteers, and to the potential food recipients. In addition, it takes government and local influencers to help make this change. This is all stuff we are actively working on and I look forward to a positive outcome over time.
SFB: What are some upcoming plans for RLC in 2019 that you’re excited about?
Dana: Thanks to the collaboration of our food donor partners, volunteers, and recipients, 102,796 pounds of recovered excess food provided about 82,236 meals for those in need throughout MA and prevented about 38,548 pounds of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere in 2018. This more than doubled our success in 2017 and we are excited to see what 2019 brings!
Very recently, we were approved for funding in order to offer three PAID “Lead Rescuer” positions in order to continue to grow our mission in Massachusetts! Why are we piloting this new program? We have 27 Open Rescues per week that we must fill consistently in order to continue growing RLC in our state. To learn more, please email me at email@example.com.
In addition, we are seeking passionate interns who are committed to social, environmental and local action. This is an opportunity to develop valuable new skills while making a real impact in the community. Documentation will be provided upon request for internship credit, resume and college application use. Internship opportunities include: Marketing Intern, Operations Management Intern (paid internship) and Outreach Intern. To learn more, please visit: https://tinyurl.com/RLCMA-Internships