Approximately 50 million Americans – one in six - lack food on a daily basis, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet, the EPA also reports that more than 30 million tons of food ends up in garbage dumps annually.
Komal Ahmad, 25, is working to reduce food waste and feed the hungry through her organization, Feeding Forward, which matches leftover food with those in need.
It wasn’t government statistics that spurred Ahmad into action. Rather, it was a one-on-one encounter with hunger.
Four years ago, Ahmad met a homeless man while strolling near the University of California at Berkeley where she was enrolled. She had recently returned from Navy summer training and was approached by the hungry 26-year-old asking for money to buy food. She treated him to lunch and they talked about his circumstances. A Veteran, he had served twice in Iraq, and Ahmad was dismayed that now back at home, he was begging for food. She decided to take action.
The man was living in a homeless sanctuary near the university’s cafeteria. Ahmad approached the college about donating leftover food to area homeless shelters – and thus began Feeding Forward, officially established in 2013.
Feeding Forward has had tremendous success in the San Francisco Bay area. At one recent three-day event in Santa Clara, Feeding Forward gathered 5,135 pounds of food. This food was dispersed to eight shelters and food banks, feeding more than 4,200 people and diverting about 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from landfills.
Although the food recovery concept isn’t brand new - organizations such as Move for Hunger and the Society of St. Andrew coordinate donations to food banks and rescue centers - but organizations such as Feeding Forward, LeftoverSwap and the Food Cowboy are making tech an even more crucial part of the food recovery service.
Restaurants, event planners, businesses or individuals with surplus food can use the Feeding Forward app to provide details of its donation. Feeding Forward then sends a driver to pick up the leftovers and deliver then to a shelter or food bank as quickly as possible.
The on-demand concept is crucial for Feeding Forward. Because so many of its donations come from restaurants and events, the food Feeding Forward receives is perishable and must be distributed, and consumed, without a delay long enough for the food to spoil.
Ahmad once had 500 donated sandwiches but was unable to find a shelter willing to take more than a dozen or so. The on-demand app allows shelters and rescue centers to let Feeding Forward know of their needs, while restaurants, event planners and even individuals can use it to inform the organization of food availability.
So far, Feeding Forward has shared nearly 700,000 pounds of food, feeding more than 570,000 people and diverting more than 3.42 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from landfills. The goal is to spread to several more cities, such as Boston and Seattle.