While Pittsburgh has been busy making a name for itself through world-class dining establishments and an exploding tech scene, since 2015, a nonprofit organization has combined these aspects to create an opportunity for positive change.
And, what a change it has made. In the two years since its launch, 412 Food Rescue has salvaged nearly 2 million pounds of food from going to waste in Allegheny County. The organization uses volunteers to “rescue” good food from restaurants and stores, and the volunteers then redistribute the food to areas of need in the community. Without 412 Food Rescue, these items would otherwise have been discarded.
Though it started as a smaller operation using Facebook to rally volunteers, 412 Food Rescue has blossomed into vast volunteer network throughout Allegheny County. The organization utilizes social media and a mobile app (available on iOS and Android) to streamline the rescue process for volunteers.
Accessibility, combined with overwhelming community support, has allowed 412 Food Rescue to quickly become a mainstay volunteer organization in Pittsburgh. In September, 412 Food Rescue announced its expansion to “724 Food Rescue,” and started providing rescue services in 412’s adjacent area code.
Expansion into more communities has been the intent of the organization since the beginning.
“It’s one of the things we knew we wanted when we set out to do this,” says 412 Food Rescue co-founder and CEO Leah Lizarondo. “It’s having its genesis in Pittsburgh, and the intent was to go national, if not global.”
Technology and social media have been essential to rapid growth of the organization. By taking a look at mobile food ordering systems like Postmates or Grubhub, 412 Food Rescue was able to create a similar model to pickup and redistribute food waste.
“I have always been passionate about food and how it fits into our lives,” says Lizarondo. “I’m also passionate about technology, and how we can harness it for good.”
The system that 412 Food Rescue has developed in Pittsburgh can be applied to hundreds of organizations doing similar work around the country – and even the world. This would allow for a more efficient food rescues, and less wasted food. And, starting in a city that has rebuilt itself on food and tech has only accelerated the growth.
“Pittsburgh is a special place,” says Lizarondo. “It is a community that welcomes innovation, and we’ve got the talent.”
In addition to talent, Pittsburgh is also committed to the organization. Local businesses are constantly teaming up to raise funds and awareness. Just this holiday season, 412 Food Rescue teamed up for fundraisers with the Miracle on Market holiday pop up bar, as well as Wigle Whiskey for a Christmas tree sale.
And, on micro level, Lizarondo shared the story of the time 412 Food Rescue quickly needed a patch for their Android app after hours. They sent a tweet asking if any Android developers were available. Within 15 minutes, the issue was resolved.
Another important role of 412 Food Rescue is spreading awareness that the majority of food waste happens within the home. The organization shares tips to try to limit this waste. For example, simple things like making a menu before shopping, and not going to the grocery store hungry, can make a big difference.
For the holiday season, 412 Food Rescue shared the idea of providing takeout containers to guests at holiday parties so they could take leftovers home with them.
Moving into 2018, keep an eye on 412/724 Food Rescue as the organization continues to expand. According the the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, in early 2017, social impact innovator New Sun Rising purchased the former Moose Lodge in Millvale, PA. 412 Food Rescue plans to set up a commercial kitchen in the space in the next year. Eventually, they would like to use the space to transform rescued food into pre-packaged meals and community dinners.
If you want to get involved, downloading the “Food Rescue” app and partaking in a food rescue is a small commitment. Each trip usually only takes around a half an hour to complete.