412 Food Rescue

Karen Turnello of Finleyville enjoys delivering pastries and bread from La Gourmandine’s Hazelwood location to the Glen Hazel High Rise, a senior living community, every Sunday as a volunteer 412 Food Rescue “Hero.”

$400,000 in total grant funding from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation

“It’s a small one, but it’s a nice one,” she says of the delivery, which usually consists of a few boxes of pastries and a heavy bag or two of rolls and croissants, baked that day but unsold.

The food she delivers is fresh, which is important: 50-60 percent of what 412 Food Rescue distributes is considered fresh food – like perishable fruits and vegetables – that can augment a healthy, balanced diet.

412 Food Rescue’s mission is to cut down on food waste – and, in the process, make an impact on hunger. The organization redirects food that is perfectly good, but deemed unsellable – like imperfect produce and day-old bread – to communities that are in need.

“It’s because of our own personal standards that this [waste] happens,” says Leah Lizarondo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue.

We reach for the milk in the back of the cooler, and as “Sell By” dates for the cartons in front advance, the grocery store can’t sell them. We leave behind perfectly good apples, and we won’t buy ripe bananas.

“When you talk about 40 percent of the food supply [being wasted], it happens all throughout the supply chain,” Lizarondo says.

The motivation behind 412 Food Rescue was twofold. First of all, there’s the natural instinct to want to cut down on waste. But more importantly, there’s the striking fact that one in seven individuals in the U.S. don’t know where their next meal will come from.

“I feel that that disconnect is a moral imperative,” Lizarondo says. “It’s criminal that we are throwing this much food away.”

But 412 Food Rescue is already making a huge impact. A GIS study conducted by the organization indicates that the group has created significantly more walkable access points to food, making it possible for over 90,000 additional people and their families in the Pittsburgh region to be within reach of nonprofits that distribute food.

Just over two years old now, 412 Food Rescue has rescued over 3 million pounds of food in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. And its goal is to rescue almost that much this year alone.

Luckily, there are a lot more hands on deck to help than when the organization first started. Originally hoping for 400 food rescue volunteers, Lizarondo says there are now 3,000 users registered on the Food Rescue Hero app, who facilitate food deliveries. Volunteers, or “food rescue heroes” watch for push notifications on their phones alerting them to a delivery opportunity. They then pick up the food and deliver it to a partner site. The whole process generally takes between 30 minutes to an hour.

The Henry L. Hillman Foundation helped launch 412 Food Rescue in 2015 with a $150,000 seed grant and has continued to support the organization with multi-year grant support.

“That belief in this innovation made a huge difference for us, and it’s what catalyzed what 412 Food Rescue is now,” Lizarondo says of Hillman’s support.

In just two years, the group has become the national model for food rescue organizations. No one else has 412 Food Rescue’s scale of impact in a single city. And Lizarondo is now fielding requests from other cities that are seeking out her team’s app technology, methodologies and overall insight.

“I am forever grateful for the risk that the foundation took, which I feel is the role of foundations: to take that risk, in terms of innovation that can solve the largest problems that we have today,” Lizarondo says.

Hunger and food waste might be huge problems to tackle, but the staff of 412 Food Rescue aren’t daunted by the challenge. They already have proof that their work is making an impact.

Toward the end of the group’s first year, the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh sent 412 Food Rescue a letter of thanks. In the short time the Housing Authority had been working with the group, emergency calls for food had been eliminated. All of them.

“We’re really passionate about understanding where the bottlenecks are for people, in terms of getting food support,” Lizarondo says. “Because if we can take one stress out of a family’s life so they can tackle all the others, then we are doing something significant.”

412 Food Rescue is a non-profit organization that operates out of Repair the World: Pittsburgh in East Liberty.

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