Published January 28, 2020
A Pittsburgh nonprofit that “rescues” good food from going to landfills is expanding its services to surrounding counties through a smartphone app and a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
412 Food Rescue, founded in 2015, redirects surplus food from local waste streams to nonprofits that serve people in need. In 2016, it began expanding beyond Allegheny County through the use of its Food Rescue Hero app. Within the 724 area code, it works with 102 donors and 98 nonprofit partners.
Volunteers who sign up through the app are directed to a retail outlet, such as a grocery store or restaurant, to pick up food and deliver it to a participating nonprofit organization or housing location.
To date, 10,000 volunteer drivers have prevented more than 8 million pounds of food from going to landfills, redirecting it instead to people who need it in Allegheny County and beyond, according to 412 Food Rescue. App users have effectively eliminated emergency calls for food from public housing communities, the organization said.
“We’re trying to bring the food directly to where people are,” said Mel Cronin, Food Rescue Hero regional expansion manager.
412 Food Rescue will use the $90,000 grant to increase service in areas where public transit is less accessible. The USDA grant, which lasts through Aug. 31, will cover things such as partner engagement, truck expenses and technology development.
Opportunities for food pickups and food deliveries in Westmoreland as well as Beaver, Fayette and Washington counties are expected to grow in 2020 as the network expands. Since 2016, the volunteer network in the 724 area code has completed 8,035 rescues, saving more than 1 million pounds of good food from being wasted.
“In this area, as in so many others, a major barrier to food security is reliable transportation access. By building a network of volunteer drivers, we can eliminate that barrier in many ways,” Cronin said.
“We will be using our truck fleet in the 724 area to deliver larger donations as we increase our partnerships with larger organizations,” she said.
412 Food Rescue has already partnered with large food donors in the area, including the Charley Family Shop ’n Save stores, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art and U.S. Foods, all of which have launched weekly donations.
The Westmoreland County Housing Authority has signed on as an anchor nonprofit partner, and Food Rescue Hero is providing food to close to 100% of public housing sites in Westmoreland County, according to 412 Food Rescue.
Volunteer driver Barbara Lease has been involved with 412 Food Rescue for about two years, first in the Pittsburgh area and then in Murrysville. She makes a weekly food rescue from the Charley Family Shop ’n Save in Murrysville and delivers the food to an apartment building in Irwin.
“This regular food rescue and delivery has been a wonderful experience for all involved. I highly recommend volunteering for 412 Food Rescue. It provides so much joy for those in need and allows you to work flexibly within your own schedule,” Lease said.
Alexis Cromer of Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood, a driver for 412 Food Rescue, picked up several boxes of fresh vegetables at the New Kensington Giant Eagle on Tuesday.
It’s one of a number of stops with the Food Rescue’s refrigerated truck.
“We go all over the place, it’s not just Giant Eagles and GetGos, but also local businesses like Primanti’s,” she said.