Hungry people are not the solution to food waste. Food should be used to create health equity.
Denver Food Rescue started in 2012 as your run of the mill food recovery and hunger charity. A small group of friends rode their bikes around Denver, Colorado, picking up food from grocery stores that would otherwise go to waste, and delivering it to food pantries, homeless shelters and and soup kitchens. This process worked well enough, but in 2014 we realized there were major gaps in our model.
Through some community based research, we realized there were a lot of people in Denver who simply didn't have access to the types of organizations we were delivering our donations to. Turns out, food assistance organizations such as food pantries can be pretty inaccessible places for low-income families. From the stigma and embarrassment associated with accepting food for free, to the low quality of food, to the fact that they are often located in central Denver, while low-income families tend to live in the city's peripheral food deserts, food pantries were not serving the needs of the community members we were talking to.
So we asked, what would you do with this food if you and your community had the opportunity to distribute this food among yourselves in whatever way you pleased? The answer is what led to the creation of DFR's flagship program, the No Cost Grocery Program. NCGPs focus on healthy food, and 80% of the food distributed is fresh produce (which also tends to be more culturally relevant). The community chooses what location they want the food to be distributed from, which is why most are located at schools, where food can be conveniently picked up while parents are picking up their kids. Most importantly, NCGPs are led by the community experiencing the health impacts of barriers to healthy food. This concept of resident leadership remains core to DFR, and our Board of Directors is made of up residents of our NCGP communities.
Volunteers delivering food from a donor to a NCGP
Over the years, DFR has grown substantially, and now rescues and delivers about 2,000 pounds of food 365 days per year. This food is delivered to one of 16 No Cost Grocery Programs. In 2018, DFR will donate more than $2 million in healthy food to more than 40,000 people, 80% of whom don't receive free food anywhere but their local NCGP.
Volunteers pick up insulated delivery bike trailers around the city, and return then after their shift
We have also implemented new and innovative programs, such as our partnership with tech company Copia, which allows us to rescue hard-to-rescue prepared food while employing individuals with barriers to employment.
We have started a partnership with local hospital Denver Health, which aims to distribute fresh produce from local hospitals. This project, called Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) upholds the truth: food is medicine. And healthy food should be available for free at all hospitals.
We also support policies that uphold our mission of health equity. That's why we support the Healthy Food for Denver campaign, which would provide healthy food and healthy food education to Denver's kids. If we want to be a society that is not known for serving our children terrible food at our schools, then we have to support policy changes like this.
DFR also operates a local chapter of Fresh Food Connect, rescuing backyard garden excess in Northeast Denver and delivering it to No Cost Grocery Programs.
Finally, we cohost the annual Forward Food Summit, a unique and progressive food justice conference focused on community based solutions. We host amazing speakers, artists, and poets, who bring the perspective of those who experience the issues we seek to address.
Forward Food Summit is not your average conference. It's filled with more artists that academics.
I served as the Executive Director of Denver Food Rescue from 2014 to 2019.
Our incredible staff at the end of my tenure as ED. Not pictured: hundred of volunteers who make the whole organization function.