At first glance, Boulder Food Rescue’s success seems entirely centered on diverting food from the waste bin to hungry bellies.
But the organization’s focus goes beyond food rescue.
A large part of the mission’s soul lies in what happens after the food is dropped off. It hinges on ‘how’ the food is redistributed throughout the recipient community after it’s delivered, according to Executive Director Hana Dansky.
That’s where the connection happens, Dansky says. “It’s about building relationships with people and food is the language in which we can do that.”
Modeled to give people a space to connect through active participation, the redistribution process is designed by the recipients themselves. The result is a process that fills more than empty stomachs.
Hearts are often filled, too.
It goes like this: working with 42 organizations like Attention Homes – a shelter for homeless youths – and Bridge House – a resource for the homeless; food pantries such as Harvest of Hope and Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFFA); and low-income housing sites managed by Boulder Housing Partners, Boulder Food Rescue volunteer bicyclists pick up fresh and prepared foods from donors and deliver it to people in need.
At residential and daycare sites and other non-traditional food sources, the goal of Boulder Food Rescue moves beyond providing food to collaborating with people to manage their own grocery programs.
“The really unique and infectious thing about our model is that we don’t just take food to pantries, we distribute to the people themselves,” says Dansky.
Volunteer residents at Boulder Housing Partners senior and family sites set up a system for dispersing the food throughout their community. Each system is unique. At some, people come and choose the food they want, at others, organizing residents sort it into bags and redistribute it. The point, and core value of Boulder Food Rescue, is to enable people to run their program how they wish.
“We go directly to the community room and those residents call their neighbors and together they are responsible for redistributing the food we drop. We work on the backend to help them run their own food programs, and provide support where they ask us to,” Dansky notes.
This involvement “helps cut down on barriers. For example, we donate to a lot of senior homes and there are a lot of barriers to accessing food around mobility, transportation and access to resources. If we can get it directly to them then they can be part of the process and it is collaborative,” Dansky emphasizes.
An emotional lift
Recently, Dansky delivered food to a senior site and “everybody was unloading food together, grabbing boxes and helping out. I heard someone exclaim ‘My childhood!’ The food we had dropped off reminded them of what they ate as a child,” Dansky says.
“It’s moments like this that help me remember why I do what I do. It’s that connection to something that matters. This is what it’s about.”
Lean but effective
Unlike most food redistribution services, Boulder Food Rescue doesn’t have – and doesn’t need – a central warehouse.
The organization is run entirely out of one small Boulder office, now no longer adequate for the growing list of staff needs. Bikes equipped with food-hauling trailers are locked up at each store. Volunteers pick up and return the rig at the donor store. Even bike maintenance is done at the donor store’s site.
The absence of a warehouse is both good and challenging. On the plus side, food that is nearly past palatable goes directly to final consumers. Stopping for sorting at a central warehouse would slow things down and put the food at risk of spoiling.
But challenges do arise, such as oversupply of a particular food item – like 100 pounds of cucumbers, all destined for the same site.
“We try to match the donation to the recipients,” says Dansky, noting that sometimes there is too much of one food to use quickly enough. “We encourage people to share recipes or come up with creative ways to use the food. Sometimes, residents take the extra somewhere that can use it, like Meals on Wheels, at one residence, because they are next door. The people that are involved in the process don’t want to see it go to waste either,” Dansky says.
BoulderSource is honored to highlight the good work of Boulder Food Rescue this month, as we celebrate all-things-food in and around Boulder. Check back next week to learn about the organization’s central role in a nationwide movement. Click the link below to get details on the upcoming fundraiser and all-out party, Feast & Fermentation.
Here’s how you can get involved:
Photos courtesy of Ethan Welty Boulder Food Rescue volunteer and professional photographer.