Boston-based food rescue service expands its reach
Lisa van der Pool
January 18, 2013
Boston Business Journal
Once a week, workers at Baldor Specialty Foods in Chelsea box up bananas, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, and other produce that are slightly bruised or have reached their expiration date.
Food like this used to be destined for the dumpster. But for the past two years, a truck from the Lovin’ Spoonfuls Inc. service comes by every week to pick it up for delivery later that day to a shelter or food pantry.
“It’s a shame to throw out food that can be used,” said Tedd Rama, head of operations at the food distribution company. “And everyone (at Lovin’ Spoonfuls) is super friendly and really passionate about what they’re doing.”
Lovin’ Spoonfuls is a nonprofit operation focused on securing daily donations of fresh produce, lean proteins and whole grains, and donating the food to food pantries and homeless shelters that same day. It’s the brainchild of Ashley Stanley, 34, who founded the Boston-based nonprofit three years ago.
Her vision was to help tackle the vast problem of hunger in the state by trying to “rescue” food from grocery stores and restaurants that would have normally been thrown out. In part, she modeled her program after other states’ food rescue organizations, including City Harvest in New York City.
In Massachusetts, the Brookline resident and her team of four employees are slowly chipping away at the problem.
In 2012, Lovin’ Spoonfuls recovered 375,000 pounds of food, up from 60,000 in 2011, by adding a second truck and more willing donors. The organization is adding a third truck this year.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ budget for 2013 is $665,000 and the nonprofit raised $410,000 in its 2012 fiscal year, and $208,000 in fiscal 2011. The bulk of that money was raised through foundations, including the John W. Henry Foundation and the Highland Street Foundation. Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ board of directors includes Robert Buffum, of Boston Private Bank & Trust, and Oscar Herrera of KnowledgeSource Solutions. Lovin’ Spoonfuls also has a culinary panel that includes Andrew Zimmern, host of “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel, and Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger in Wellesley.
Besides aggressively fundraising through private donors, Stanley was one of 16 winners of the MassChallenge startup competition in October and she heavily promotes the Lovin’ Spoonfuls mission through social media. She says those two things have helped get the word out about her mission.
The nonprofit collects food donations from a variety of supermarkets, farms and restaurants including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Buckle Farm and Captain Marden’s Seafoods. The beneficiaries include Rosie’s Place, Pine Street Inn and Bridge Over Troubled Waters.
Joanne Chang-Myers, co-owner of four Flour bakeries, has been donating food to Lovin’ Spoonfuls since the nonprofit launched three years ago. Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up Flour’s donations twice each week at each of the bakery’s four locations.
“It’s brilliant. Working in a kitchen, you see how much food ends up getting wasted,” said Chang-Myers, also a member of Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ culinary panel. “There’s a lot of food that we make that just has a little something that makes it not quite up to what we’re selling. And up until Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we just threw it away.”
Organizations that are on the receiving end of the nonprofit’s donations appreciate that the food is largely made up of fresh produce.
At the Elizabeth Peabody House in Somerville, Rebekah Carter, the emergency food pantry coordinator, gets a Lovin’ Spoonfuls delivery once per week.
“Just in general, I think what they’re doing is cool because they’re providing fresh food and local foods to food pantries” that oftentimes receive only “shelf-stable” foods like canned goods, Carter said.
Katie Amoro of Rosie’s Place said the shelter received $25,000 worth of donated fresh produce in 2012, in large part because of Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ actions. “Their focus on providing nutritious food for our guests is so important,” Amoro said.
In 2010, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S. Meanwhile, an estimated 50 million Americans don’t have access to enough food, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And more than 750,000 people in Massachusetts are chronically hungry, according to Boston-based Project Bread, an organization working to end hunger in the state.
Stanley said her biggest challenge is getting people to think differently about how they can change the vast problem of hunger and food waste.
“So much of what we hear in the media for so long now is that the problem of hunger is this chronic problem, … in perpetuity,” Stanley said. “There’s something that’s a little hopeless about that.”