Americans throw away nearly half of the food they buy. It’s a staggering statistic considering one in five Cuyahoga County residents are going hungry, according to Stacy Soulimiotis, Program Director of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.
“It makes no sense that food—perfectly viable, good food—isn’t being given to those who are in need,” she said.
On Nov. 30, 2018, the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland launched its Food Rescue Program to help Northeast Ohio cut down on food waste and help put fresh, healthy food on dinner tables across the city.
Food waste isn’t just forgotten leftovers and never-gotten-to ingredients. Grocery stores often reject perfectly edible but imperfect looking items, said Ashley Weingart, Founder and CEO of Perfectly Imperfect Produce, a partner in the Food Rescue Program. Her company purchases the fruits and veggies grocery stores and wholesalers cast off and makes them available for consumers to buy online. It also reserves a cache of perfectly imperfect products for donation.
These items get turned down for a variety of cosmetic reasons, from a pepper running too small to an orange not being quite “orange” enough.
“They may be ‘imperfect’ to someone, but they’re perfectly fresh and healthy,” Weingart said.
The Hunger Network’s Food Rescue Heroes pick up the items donated from partners like Perfectly Imperfect Produce and local grocery chains and deliver them to food pantries, hunger centers and other nonprofits across Northeast Ohio.
The whole program is run using the Food Rescue App, which allows volunteers to schedule regular food rescues or respond to pop-up rescue missions.
Since the app launched in 2018, more than 500 people have downloaded it and more than 235,000 pounds of food have been rescued. Soulimiotis said funding from the Cleveland Foundation has been instrumental in the program’s success. “The Cleveland Foundation is one of our biggest donors, and without them, we wouldn’t be able to operate this program in Cleveland,” she said.
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