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Imagine being served a full plate of the most dazzling, delectable, and decadent food you have ever seen. As the sweet and savory aroma meets your nose, your senses explode and your mouth waters.
Now imagine, before taking a bite, you scrape nearly half that food into the trash. You might think you'd never do that. But as a country, that's exactly what we do in the U.S.
I'm happy to announce that one of our winning 2015 Green Tech Success Story Contest submissions is TechSoup member Boulder Food Rescue, an organization working to eliminate food waste in its community and across the country.
In the U.S., 40 percent of all food is wasted every year because food is left behind on farms, discarded in the processing stage, taken off grocery or retail store shelves, and thrown out by restaurants and homes. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this wasted food adds up to over $165 billion a year.
At the same time, nearly 49 million Americans are "food insecure," meaning that at some point during the year they were unable to meet the food needs of their families.
Traditionally, food pantries have existed to provide food resources to those in need, but there are often barriers to entry — pantries are only open at specific times, there can be accessibility issues, or the stigma of going keeps the proudest families away. Boulder Food Rescue exists to fill these gaps.
Working with local businesses, Boulder Food Rescue identifies places where food that would usually be thrown away can be saved instead.
Once a day, one of the organization's more than 150 volunteers will show up at the business, load the food onto a trailer attached to a bike, and then bike the fresh food to one of the approximately 50 organizations Boulder Food Rescue serves, where it is typically used within 24 to 48 hours.
Boulder Food Rescue provides food to homeless shelters, working-poor families, schools, charities, low-income housing cooperatives, and other organizations in need. Each volunteer can carry up to 600 pounds of food, and logistics are coordinated through an online application called the Robot, making this model replicable and easy to handle with only one full-time employee.
In an effort to spread food rescues across the country, Boulder Food Rescue made this logistics tool free to any nonprofit or food rescue that wants to automate some of its program's efforts. The prototype of the software is already being used in five cities, including Denver, Colorado and Oakland, California.
The impact of this work has been enormous. To date, the organization has redirected more than 800,000 pounds of food from the landfill to the hungry people of Boulder. More than that, though, 89 percent of food recipients have reported having better access to healthy food.
To Hana Dansky, the executive director and the only full-time employee of Boulder Food Rescue, however, this is simply not enough:
"One thing I'm really interested in is how to explain our impact so that it's not about the service but about changing the system. A lot of food banks measure impact by number of mouths fed … when I hear that I think, that's more hungry people that need food! So I'm looking at how to increase access so there are less hungry people who need food overall."
To start moving the line on hunger overall, Boulder Food Rescue has been contracted by the City of Boulder to perform a "food audit" of food waste in the city. Boulder Food Rescue plans to use this information to pressure more local businesses to donate food and shift public opinion to reduce food waste for the city.
To collect this information, Boulder Food Rescue sends out teams of people to survey local businesses. However, like many nonprofits, Boulder Food Rescue relies heavily on volunteers, which can sometimes be problematic when trying to convey a sense of professionalism. In order to be taken seriously, Boulder Food Rescue went to TechSoup.org for refurbished tablets, donated through our Refurbished Computer Initiative program:
"The donation has been incredibly significant in obtaining data for this research, and we expect to fight hard for legislation to pass following our research. ... If we had just sent someone in with a paper survey, I don't think people would have taken us as seriously. Having the equipment … from TechSoup really created a lot of legitimacy to us."
Boulder Food Rescue combined these tablets with the use of Quick Tap Surveys, an offline surveying and data collection app, to upgrade its army of volunteers so that they could approach businesses with the air of professionalism their work demands.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, reducing U.S. food waste by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans.
The Boulder Food Rescue bike-based direct redistribution model has already been replicated exactly in five cities nationwide, and many more food-rescue organizations around the country are using the Robot to manage volunteer activities. These organizations are aided by Boulder Food Rescue's peer learning network and educational resources. To find out how to bring food rescue to your town or city, check out these resources.
Each of our three winners received either a refurbished laptop or tablet from our great Refurbished Computer Initiative partners: CDI, InterConnection, and PC Rebuilders and Recyclers. Boulder Food Rescue got an HP EliteBook 8440p as the first-place winner of the contest. Many thanks to our generous donors for their support.
Our second-place winner was Braided River, and our third-place winner was Cary Creative Center.
This story was written by Wesley White, the New Sector Alliance resident in social enterprise at TechSoup.
Images: Boulder Food Rescue
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.