Every quarter of the year at Nada, we partner with a different nonprofit through 1% for the Planet to financially support their mission. For this quarter, the Nada Team voted to support the Vancouver Food Runners. With the Holiday season in full swing, we felt that their mission of preventing food waste and directing it toward people who are experiencing food insecurity, was especially crucial.
In Canada, according to the National Zero Waste Council, 2.2 million tonnes of edible food is wasted each year. This waste not only increases the need for more food production and adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but it also costs Canada $17 billion each year to mitigate this waste. Additionally, a study from the PROOF lab at the University of Toronto found that in 2017-2018, 12.7% of households experienced food insecurity. Read our previous blog post about food insecurity to learn more.
Vancouver Food Runners is an organization that is driven to carry out a solution at the intersection of both the problems of food waste and food insecurity. Vancouver Food Runners utilize the Food Rescue Hero App that matches 109 different food donor partners to over 62 nonprofit beneficiaries by mobilizing a community of volunteers to efficiently and cost-effectively transport food from being wasted to a place where it is needed. Through this strategic method of closing the loop and fixing an inefficiency in our food system, the Food Runners have successfully served over 145,000 meals! And by redirecting surplus food away from the landfill, they have prevented over 50,000 pounds of Carbon Dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
As a team, we feel so fortunate to partner and support the Vancouver Food Runner’s mission and their amazing efforts. We had a chat with them to learn more about how they started, how it works, and how YOU can get involved. In a year where we need it most, help prevent healthy food from going to waste and get it to people who need it. Check out the Q&A with the Founder and Board Chair of Vancouver Food Runners, Tristan Jagger to learn more!
Tristan Jagger | Founder & Board Chair
What is the story and inspiration behind the start of Vancouver Food Runners?
I’m a mom of 4 young kids so when I found out that in Vancouver one in six children are going to school hungry, I honestly just couldn't stomach it. So I started doing some research and found an amazing organization in the United State called 412 Food Rescue that has technology that is helping to solve the problem of hunger. It matches excess food to charities that need it. The platform is for volunteers and they can log on and see what food is available on the app. As a volunteer you can accept a food rescue whenever you want. I love that and it gets back to the idea where I’m a Mum of four and it works so well because Mums are driving everywhere, all the time, all over the place and why not pick up food along the way and drop it off to whoever needs it. I thought a lot of people must feel this way because in Vancouver we are all only about 15 km away from each other but the social gradient is huge and becoming even bigger during the pandemic.
How does it work?
We rescue surplus food from large operations, such as produce wholesalers and farms, as well as smaller-scale businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants. Moreover, we have set up a regular weekly collection schedule for a number of our food donor partners, and all services are free for both food donors and community partners. Our volunteers immediately take the food to a nearby charity partner. Some of our charity partners include the YWCA, Atira Women's Resource Society, Boys and Girls Clubs, KidSafe Project, Lookout Housing and Health Society, Canuck Place, Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, Kilala Lelum, and a large number of Neighbourhood Houses running food programs. Rather than healthy food going to waste, it goes directly to those who need it the most in Vancouver.
What are the big issues associated with food waste?
One big issue right now is that I find a lot of food suppliers just don't know where to donate or drop off excess food they have. A lot of people have excess food, but it's hard to find a charity that can take it if you don’t have the upfront information. So at Vancouver Food Runners, we know all the charities that can take food, we have 62 charity partners that allow us to drop food there when we want. And we can help the food suppliers that have excess food distribute to the right places that have the right setup like a kitchen or a storage facility.
Have you noticed a change in the supply or demand of these “wasted foods” since the pandemic?
During the pandemic we have seen a huge increase in the amount of people that need food. We worked with about 100 families a week through CityReach Care Society, one of our 62 community partners, but during the pandemic with that same partner, we now work with around 670 families per week. In total, Vancouver Food Runners, now reaches over 15,000 individuals in Vancouver. On the other hand we have seen a lot of restaurants sadly shut down or not getting the same amount of people going to them so they have a lot of food left over. We have actually seen the community really come together during this time. For example, bakeries are making more bread because they know people are hungry, and they’ll call me and say they've put more loaves in the oven because they know it can be used somewhere.
What does volunteering with the Food Runners look like?
It’s super simple. All you have to do is download the app and then you can automatically see all the food rescues available for the day or the week. So the app will direct you to the organization, it will tell you exactly where you need to go, who you need to speak to, who you need to call when you arrive and everything is very COVID friendly, there is no direct interaction with the person on the other end. It will also tell you exactly where to drop off the food. The cool thing about this app is that you can use it whenever you want. You can put in your 20 minutes a month or you can take a weekly route. We do have a lot of food suppliers that we go-to regularly. So let’s say every Monday we pick at 10 am from CrabTree Corner and you could take that run and stay with it for as long as you want. You can take whatever jobs you want or create a regular schedule. A neat thing we’re seeing is people bringing their kids or their mom or dad, it’s a good way to get out of the house and see what’s going on in your community in a safe way. We have a school bus that brings all the grade elevens down to do a produce pick-up and bring it to a women’s shelter. We have over 704 volunteers and we just started at the end of March.
How can consumers help change the systemic issues associated with food waste, especially during the holiday season?
We all want to be conscious and not waste our food, but there is one cool thing we notice people are doing right now. This year, in many cases people can’t host holiday parties either at work or at home due to the pandemic. So instead of putting the money toward a Holiday party, people are donating that money to Vancouver Food Runners instead and then we are able to buy produce and other foods and make sure it gets to the families and organizations who need food during this time.
What are ways people can get involved? Any upcoming fundraisers or initiatives?
Three simple ways people can get involved:
- Anyone can easily download the app and volunteer with Food Runners! You can sign up and find your first rescue in 10 minutes. Sign up now on android or iOS!
- Donate to our Winter Fundraiser! We have a match up to 10,000 dollars, so truly anything helps.
- We are looking for more suppliers. If readers know anyone with a bakery or restaurant that wants to have Vancouver Food Runners pick up from them and help them prevent food waste for free, reach out and connect them with us!
Thank you, Tristan! We are so grateful for all the hard work being done by the Vancouver Food Runners and all of their amazing volunteers and partners. This year hit everyone pretty hard, but helping others and coming together as a community is a way to reprioritize this holiday season.