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Tue February 11, 2014
Boston Nonprofit 'Rescues' Food Waste For Needy Families
It’s just before noon on a recent Friday when Meg Kiley pulls up behind the Whole Foods in Charlestown. Once she’s parked her modestly sized white truck, she heads straight for the loading dock.
Out comes a cart that’s packed with a bevy of fresh foods. There are gallons of milk, bright yellow bananas, and tomatoes that look like they just came off the vine — along with enough avocados to whip up a vat of guacamole.
All of it is perfectly edible — but because of aesthetic flaws and looming expiration dates, it’s unlikely to sell. For Kiley and her employer, the local food rescue organization Lovin’ Spoonfuls, that is good news.
"When I’m collecting food, a lot of times I’m amazed a lot of times at the quality, honestly, of what may have been thrown out," Kiley said. "I think there’s a right to eat well. And if that food is gonna get tossed anyway, there’s no reason why somebody who could really appreciate it shouldn’t get it."
That’s where Lovin’ Spoonfuls comes in. The six-person nonprofit, which operates out of a tiny office on Commonwealth Avenue, has a simple mission: Save good food before it’s thrown out, and get it to people who might otherwise go hungry.
"We’re wasting over 40 percent of the food we produce in this country, over a third around the world," said Ashley Stanley, Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ founder and executive director. "And if you pair that that with the fact that 49 million Americans who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, the miles between those two numbers is so far."
As Stanley tells it, the organization exists largely because of an epiphany she had back in 2009.
"Over the holidays, we’re sort of inundated with this idea of charitable giving and the charitable push, — 'There’s not enough' — whether it’s food, money, clothing, toys," she said. "The constant push, whether it’s television, newspapers, radio – 'there’s not enough, give what you can.' I was eating lunch at a small restaurant in Wellesley. I was full before I’d gotten the next plate of food, and for that one moment I looked at the plates on the table, and there was enough — not just enough for me, but there was enough probably to feed five or six people on that table. And then I thought, this can’t be the only table and the only restaurant which has enough. Which sort of naturally gave its way to thinking, is that statement of 'there’s not enough' accurate?"
In the days that followed, Stanley says, she tried to learn everything she could about the phenomenon of food waste — and was shocked by what she found.
"The amount of food we’re wasting equals over $167 billion for the retail value each year," she said. "And then we look at the environment, and we’re using 300 million barrels of oil to grow and incinerate food that we’re wasting. If you can think the Rose Bowl — which is such a powerful image, it’s a 95,000 seat arena — and if you were to fill it with fresh produce every day and light it on fire, that’s the rate that we’re wasting food."
Armed with that knowledge, and an accompanying sense of urgency, Stanley launched Lovin’ Spoonfuls. Four years later, the organization’s growth has been impressive. Stanley says Lovin’ Spoonfuls rescues an average of 15,000 pounds of food every week — with more than 1 million pounds total rescued so far.
The roster of donors includes bigger and smaller grocers, local farms, and restaurants like Flour Bakery + Café — who get a tax break and some good PR. The rescued foodstuffs go a bevy of charitable organizations, including Rosie’s Place and the Pine Street Inn. After her stop at Whole Foods, Kiley heads to Project Soup, an emergency food pantry in East Somerville. The drop-off is quick, with Kiley and Project Soup’s Nina Siciliano ferrying everything from truck to pantry in a matter of minutes.
As Kiley climbs back in the truck and drives off, Siciliano gives her take on what today’s Lovin' Spoonfuls drop-off means.
"It’s very important," Siciliano said. "It’s what keeps our doors open. Today we’ve got milk, we’ve got potatoes, fresh peppers, avocados, oranges, apples — we got a nice variety today."
And how quickly will that stuff go to people who are clients?
"We could service anywhere between five to 15 and 20 families a day, and we’re here six days a week," she said. "So it may last us a day or two. And it’ll go."
But after it’s gone — Lovin' Spoonfuls will be back.