Food Rescue Experts Pool Resources to Build Recovery Infrastructure

Los Angeles has the largest food-insecure population in the nation with approximately 30 percent of Angelenos in need, according to a University of Southern California study. Yet, the county discards billions of pounds of good food every year, punctuating a need for systemic changes in the food system.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

April 15, 2024

5 Min Read
Norman Eggert / Alamy Stock Photo

Los Angeles has the largest food-insecure population in the nation with approximately 30 percent of Angelenos in need, according to a University of Southern California study. Yet, the county discards billions of pounds of good food every year, punctuating a need for systemic changes in the food system.

Several key stakeholders will discuss their work in that region to tackle this titanic task at a WasteExpo session: “The Importance of Collaboration and Grant Funding in Food Rescue” on Tuesday, May 7, 3:45 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. PST at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Michelle Mikesell, Food Rescue Programs manager, Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment, City of Los Angeles will moderate; presenters include Nancy Beyda, executive director, FoodCycle LA; Arnali Ray, executive director, Hollywood Food Coalition; Ana-Alicia Carr, director of Policy & Coalitions, Los Angeles Food Policy Council; and Ave Lambert, executive director, FEAST. 

They will shed light on plans for 16 grants totaling $612,000 and explain how, through multi-stakeholder collaboration, they are working to build infrastructure to increase Los Angeles’ food rescue capacity.

The City of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment’s (LASAN) Food Rescue Program is committed to reducing and diverting food waste and increasing donations of edible surplus food.

This focus was a natural evolution for the agency. As waste management experts the staff know first-hand where improvements in food recovery are needed. And the impetus to step in was there, both to support people in need and align with regulations. Senate Bill 1383 calls on California to reduce landfilled organic waste by 75 percent by 2025. As part of that law, cities statewide must establish organics recycling programs as well as increase the recovery of surplus edible food for human consumption by 20 percent.

In response to these requirements, the city created the Food Rescue in Food Insecure Communities Grant Program with American Recovery Act funds.

LASAN, in partnership with LA Food Policy Council and Rising Communities, developed micro grant and macro grant opportunities for the city’s food rescue organizations (FROs). The micro grants ($15,000 - $25,000 each) will quickly provide FROs with smaller sums of capital to apply in the areas they need it most. 

The macro grants ($50,000 - $100,000 each) support multi-stakeholder projects to increase the city’s food rescue capacity. These larger grants were designed for the FROs, many who share resources, to develop a collaborative strategy to address infrastructure gaps and overcome a systemic issue, Mikesell says.

Grant awardees have proposed, and are working to build, food rescue hubs.

“The processes that will be developed will create opportunities for collaboration across the food rescue system so that FROs aren’t competing for funding or resources but are instead finding ways to share what they have with each other. This ensures that the food rescue capacity in Los Angeles grows, and more hungry people are fed,” Mikesell says.

FoodCycle rescues food from more than 300 businesses and delivers it to almost 400 nonprofit partners throughout Los Angeles. 

“It is important to get donations of surplus food directly to where they can be distributed to food-insecure communities.  We do this through collaboration and network building. Our large network of food recipients means that we can match donations and supply the types of food and quantities needed,” Beyda says.

The nonprofit’s model, which focuses on transportation, incorporates an app to facilitate logistics. To support its network, the team leverages electric vehicles, multiple smaller hubs, and solar-powered shared refrigeration.

By sharing resources, they are able to maximize impact and support multiple nonprofit partners in the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. 

This model has enabled more than a 5,000 percent increase in the amount of food recovered in the past five years.

The interconnected problems of food insecurity and food waste offer opportunity to model the shift needed to address climate change and hunger, Beyda says.

“We focus on rethinking the food recovery system, innovating in ways that can be duplicated in other areas, and tracking our impact to show the effectiveness of this approach,” she says.

A problem that the Hollywood Food Coalition, like others in food recovery have seen is that many smaller community-based organizations (CBOs) and FROs lack infrastructure to adequately serve their communities.

These same CBOs are left to serve communities experiencing the highest levels of food insecurity, mainly communities of color that Ray says have experienced historic disinvestment.

“Community-based organizations have filled the gaps left by this disinvestment and have become the de facto providers of a social and economic safety net. They have on-the-ground knowledge of what their communities need, and we want to support them as they build their food infrastructure,” she says.

Hollywood Food Coalition receives, sorts, and stores food donations that go to small- to medium-sized social service nonprofits so they have food they need to serve their communities, many which are in food deserts.

The Coalition is focused on building a hub that aggregates food generators, food recovery, and CBOs. The goal is to create a collaborative system to coordinate the flow of food from food producers to FROs gathering edible unsold food that can be distributed to localized community food programs, ultimately diverting from landfills. 

“This potential strategic partnership will allow us to explore a long-term way to sustainably grow our impact, share the costs of a larger warehouse space, and create a framework for pooling resources with other nonprofits to increase efficiencies,” Ray says.

Don’t miss this WasteExpo session where these leaders in food recovery will share more on what’s possible through collaboration and innovative thinking.

WasteExpo is North America’s largest solid waste, recycling, organics, food waste recovery, and sustainability tradeshow serving both the private and public sectors.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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