Another Man’s Treasure

By Luke Luedy

Everyone eats.

Of the roughly eight billion people on Earth, all consume food in one way or another. And with such a large number of mouths to feed, a steady production of food is necessary.

This isn’t a problem. The United States, at least, produces around 360 million tons of food. With such a number, hunger should be the least of an individual’s concerns.

Yet this is not the case.

Greg Austin, a manager at 412 Food Rescue, said, “Roughly 40 percent of the food that is produced in the U.S. goes to waste. That looks like, on average, 65.2 million tons in a year.”

In addition, Austin said that roughly one to five or one to seven people face food insecurity. The number of people that go hungry, along with how much food is wasted, paints a bleak picture. “Those two statistics, side by side,” Austin said, “don’t add up.”

Austin said that he, and other workers and volunteers at the organization, are attempting to bring down this massive number.

According to their website, 412 Food Rescue is a non-profit organization located in Pittsburgh. The organization focuses on obtaining wasted food from restaurants, grocery stores, farms, and other places.

Volunteers then deem the food safe to eat and transport it to public locations, such as churches or daycare centers. From there, individuals who experience food insecurity are able to receive the food.

“Since the inception of the program, we’ve distributed 82,000 meals,” Austin said. 412 Food Rescue, however, does not simply fish food from the bin and hand it out. Austin explained that before people donate food, volunteers take it through two processes: kitchen prep and grocery bagging.

In the kitchen, volunteers determine what food is edible, along with making it presentable, akin to something more commonly found in a restaurant or store. Austin said that, on average, the kitchen produces 800 to 1,200 meals every week.

In the grocery bagging program, volunteers store food in large brown bags for distribution. According to the organization’s website, volunteers pack and distribute over 500 bags of food per week. Additionally, Austin said that since the inception of 412 Food Rescue, volunteers have distributed 82,000 meals to those with food insecurity.

Without volunteers, though, these programs and donations would not work at a larger level. To counteract this, Austin said, “To make more of that work happen, we developed an app.”

The app, also called 412 Food Rescue, streamlines the donation process, along with making it easily accessible, according to the organization’s website. Austin said that the process for a volunteer to donate food across the city through the app is remarkably easy. “You tap a couple of buttons,” he said, “and you’re looking at a map of Pittsburgh.”

From there, someone gives instructions to volunteers on what food people need and in what amounts. Then, the app gives step-by-step directions on where to deliver the food. Basically, as Austin said, the app “turns any volunteer who uses that app into a Grubhub driver.”

With the concise directions, flexibility, and ease of access to the app, Austin believes that the app is a great success for the organization. Since the release of the app, Austin said that over 16,500 individuals have downloaded it. According to Austin, volunteers accumulated over 14,000 hours in 2022.

Of course, with all the food recovered and restored, not all of it can be completely reused. Yet according to Austin, this number is very small. “We took in 2022, 157,000 pounds,” Austin said, “and turned about 39 pounds in the trash.” For reference, Austin said that around 0.003 percent of donated food goes back into the trash.

In short, Austin and others at 412 Food Rescue have been making large strides to reduce hunger in Pittsburgh. Austin said that over the past seven or eight years, volunteers have rescued over 27 million pounds of food. In addition, Austin said that the organization plans to introduce its app to other cities in the U.S., so they too can reduce hunger.

Judging by the work the organization has done, that original number of 65.2 million tons of wasted food suddenly appears less daunting.

Austin spoke about 412 Food Rescue to a journalism class on April 18th, 2023.

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