Peninsula Food Runners: Paying forward by reducing food waste and hunger through sustainability

Peninsula Food Runners: Paying forward by reducing food waste and hunger through sustainability

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted.  A mere 15 percent of that would feed 25 million more people.

In California alone, food is the largest single source of waste, as reported by to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.   In fact, studies have found that more than six million tons of food products are dumped annually, enough to fill the Staples Center in Los Angeles 35 times.

One would think that with that amount of wasted food, people in the state are guaranteed to have food on their table.  The sad truth is that, while tons of food rot in farm fields, grocery stores or end in restaurant dumpsters — much of which are edible, good and safe to consume — families are starving in California.

In the article Hunger in the Golden State by Kim Daniels as part of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC and California Watch, it stated that an examination showed shortcomings along food distribution chain in the state.  These shortcomings allowed vast amounts of food to go to waste in landfills — despite laws and tax incentives that encourage food donations.

Here in the Bay Area, one non-profit organization is working hard to lessen — even in a very minute percentage — the wasted food and bring it to those who need it.

Peninsula Food Runners (PFR) was launched by Maria Yap in collaboration with web consultant Tod Hing, who created a custom technology, Chow Match, to connect volunteers, donors and recipients in an efficient and timely manner.  Inspired to start the organization after years of volunteering at a successful food recovery organization in San Francisco, Maria saw an opportunity to take the same basic model and spread its reach to the San Mateo and Santa Clara region.

From 40 volunteers in its initial launch, PFR has since grown to over 250 volunteers.  The organization services more than 150 donors, and delivers food to over 60 recipients. The organization provides free service to pick up excess perishable and prepared food from restaurants, caterers, bakeries, wholesalers, event planners, corporate cafeterias, farmers market vendors and hotels.  Volunteers pick up food from these businesses and deliver directly to shelters, neighborhood feeding programs and 100 percent affordable housing.

Currently, PFR recovers over 380,000 pounds of food and delivers 30,000 meals a week.    The distribution area goes as far south as San Jose, and as far north as San Francisco and Daly City.  Food runs are also made to Pacifica and Half Moon Bay on a weekly basis.

“Peninsula Food Runners works by finding organizations and companies with surplus food, identifying (the) group in need of food, and using our volunteer network to deliver donations in a timely manner to recipients,” said Yap.   “This is made possible by PFR’s Chow Match web application, which uses an algorithm to match donations with recipient needs.  Chow Match addresses some of the known challenges in food surplus distribution, such as the lack of human resources at shelters, minimum space to store or process food, the varied infrastructure of shelters and feeding programs, and finally the fear of liability associated with food donations.”

In fact, PFR has been referred to as “Uber of Food Recovery” by Manna Food Center, a premier food bank in Maryland, who is also using the Chow Match web application.

Among those benefiting PFR’s services are thousands of people in the Northern Peninsula, both in shelters and affordable housing.  These include St. Andrew’s Senior Housing, Safe Harbor, all the satellites of the Club, Daly City De Lue Boys and Girls Club, School House Family Housing, Catholic West San Bruno shelter, Hillside Church, St. Vincent De Paul feeding program, Chestnut Senior Housing, Fairway Senior Housing, SSF YMCA family services, and more.

“Food donations in Northern Peninsula feed an estimated 80 percent Asians, 60-70 percent are Filipinos,” shared Yap.  “Sadly, we only have 3-5 Filipino volunteers who have faithfully served PFR since it began in 2013.”

On a somber note, Yap mentioned that one of PFR’s first three original Filipino volunteers, Leo Quini, passed away and was laid to rest last October 13.  “He was a committed and dependable volunteer,” she added.

Yap explained that one of the reasons PFR is a success is mainly due to their community and corporate volunteers.  “Being a ‘food runner’ is flexible and rewarding, and each run usually takes only an hour total.”  For this short time, volunteers have the opportunity to accomplish their social responsibilities throughout the year, instead of just during the holiday season.  “This eliminates the effect of too little (famine), versus too much (feast) phenomena that is a common experience among shelters.  Hunger exists everyday, so why not volunteer throughout the year,” she added.

Majority of PFR’s volunteers are from the South Peninsula, but they would love to have more volunteers from Daly City, Colma, South San Francisco, Visitation Valley and Brisbane so they can step up and support their own communities, Yap said.

Volunteering is also a great opportunity for high school students to meet community service requirements.  Not only will they get to help a lot of people, it will open their eyes to many pressing issues such as food waste, homelessness, hunger, food insecurities, poverty, resource diversion, sustainable practices, public perception to food, present available solutions, supplementing feeding programs for seniors, families and children, as well as many other secondary issues.

Although PFR has no definite funding source, Yap is extremely grateful to their generous donors and supporters.  She however, mentioned that their biggest challenge at the moment is building a sustainable infrastructure.

“We are presently 100 percent volunteer-based.  Funding affords PFR a few permanent employees to dedicate their time ensuring PFR is successful at accomplishing its goals.  The goal for 2016 is to purchase a refrigerated truck, and hire a driver so we can reach even more people,” she added.

Reiterating that the public — especially potential donors and volunteers — should know that PFR and this service exist and that there is no reason to waste food, Yap believes that we need to pay forward for our future generation by sustaining our present resources.

“Feeding those in need minimizes the psychological trauma of hunger and food insecurities.  Diverting food from landfills reduces household gases, which is a major contributor to global warming.  We all have a responsibility to do our part to be the solution to hunger, food waste and sustainability.”

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