You’ve heard the stats? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the US throws out more than 400 pounds of food per person per year. This wasted food generates climate-change pollution equivalent to 37 million cars per year. If just one-third of the food that we now toss was redirected to people in need, it would more than meet food needs across the country. According to the DC Department of Public Works Solid Waste Characterization Study, food waste in 2011 made up approximately 14.8 percent of DC’s residential waste stream. So much of that wasted food could be put to better use.
Enter Kate Urbank
DC has been Kate Urbank’s home away from home for the last few years. A Georgetown University graduate, she moved back to DC after raising her children in California and working in Connecticut politics. She hoped to find work in the political sphere but soon realized that many had the same idea. She needed something to do.
In Connecticut, she’d volunteered with Food Rescue US. She’d had fun doing food “runs” – picking up perfectly good food that was reaching expiration from a local grocery store, loading it in her car, and delivering it to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen that could put the food to good use. She decided to do food runs in DC while continuing her job hunt.
But a Google search for a food-runner program in DC came up empty. Eventually, Urbank met Josh Singer, who leads the DC Food Recovery Working Group. “Josh confirmed that there was no app-based, volunteer-driven food runner program in the District,” explained Urbank, “but wholeheartedly supported the idea. So, I called the Food Rescue US main office and pitched the idea of starting Food Rescue US-DC. I met with DC food recovery and food insecurity stakeholders, and by October 2016, we listed our first food rescue opportunity in our app. It was claimed by David and Christine, my first official Food Rescuers, and we were launched. I had a job!”
Enter Miss Pixie’s
Laying groundwork for the expansion of Food Rescue US in DC took time. While the Good Samaritan Good Food Donation Act of 1996 protects food donors from criminal or civil liability, it was a new idea for many businesses. In addition to attracting donors, Urbank also needed to identify receiving agencies and attract more volunteers. It was starting to become a 24/7 commitment.
Because the work was often solitary, she decided to look for a part-time job to gain co-workers and bring some rhythm to her week. In June of 2017, she landed a weekend job at Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot. “I was inspired by Pixie’s commitment to the community,” she explained, “and I had all but furnished my apartment there and liked the vibe.”
In keeping with her community spirit, last November, Pixie Windsor hosted a meet and greet for Urbank’s volunteers on “Giving Tuesday.” Urbank noted, “Since we work remotely, many of us had never met. It was a fun and diverse group of people – food donors, receiving agency representatives and volunteers – all connecting and sharing stories.” This month, Windsor is holding a volunteer-a-thon at the store in to recruit more food rescuers.
The staff at Miss Pixie’s has caught the food rescue bug. Aaron was the first to dive in, and now Stefanie, Glynn and Pixie are all regular food rescuers, Pixie having adopted two runs per week. But she’s gone beyond volunteering. She’s a huge advocate for Food Rescue US, connecting Urbank to potential food donors, receiving agencies and media contacts. Windsor noted, “I’m thrilled to be able to support Kate and her food rescue work. It’s wonderful to be able to help get perfectly good food to people who need it the most.”
And how is Food Rescue US doing in DC? Since the organization’s inception in October 2016, over 500,000 pounds of food have been “rescued,” providing healthy meals to DC’s homeless and food insecure. But, there’s much more to do. According to Urbank, “There’s currently legislation pending before the DC Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue that would provide tax credits to businesses and individuals who donate food. We need DC residents to urge Councilmember Evans, who chairs this committee, to bring it to a vote. And, we need more volunteers. We need more food and agencies to receive this food. We need awareness!”
Why not give food rescuing a try? It’s a lot of fun. Just ask the folks at Miss Pixie’s. She’ll be hosting a volunteer-a-thon at her store on June 21 from 6 to 8 p.m., or email Kate Urbank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the conservation chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.