Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: How Ashley Stanley & Lovin’ Spoonfuls Are Rescuing Food That Would Otherwise Be Thrown Out

Penny Bauder
Jun 14 · 13 min read

Anybody can start a business. Anybody can assume the title of founder, or entrepreneur. There’s so much hype about the space, and being disruptive, and using all the buzzwords — get out there and punch today in the face! I don’t want to punch today in the face. It’s okay to be reasonable, pragmatic — maybe even rational. But don’t do it just for the sake of doing it. Find purpose, be intentional, figure out what outcomes matter to you and how you can get there.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Stanley, founder & executive director of Boston-based .

Ashley Stanley is a born and raised Bostonian who has become a vocal advocate for food rescue and leads the charge for food justice in Massachusetts. Establishing Lovin’ Spoonfuls in 2010, Ashley bridges the gap between abundance and need to provide over 80,000 pounds of fresh, perishable food to those who need it most each week. Since its inception, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued more than 16 million pounds of fresh, healthy food and currently distributes to over 160 nonprofits that address food insecurity throughout Massachusetts. As a result, Ashley has created unparalleled awareness for food rescue, with dedication to addressing hunger relief, climate change and health equity.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Growing up as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I think I always felt a deep sense of gratitude. As refugees from Austria (via France), my great-grandfather, my grandmother and great uncle arrived in the U.S determined to give back to the country that accepted our family’s escape. That outlook left a profound impact on me, and while I came to realize I had grown up incredibly privileged, I didn’t quite know it while I was young. We really valued and celebrated the ability to live well, eat well, travel — really experience life. For me, it always came back to feeling so incredibly lucky that the legacy of the family brought us such an opportunity, when it didn’t for so many.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I founded Lovin’ Spoonfuls because I really believe that access to healthy food is a basic human right. I also believe that with so many unsolvable problems in the world, wasting food isn’t one of them. The space between those two beliefs is what LS addresses and we strive to be adaptive, consistent, and thoughtful in response to the unique challenges of food rescue and food insecurity. Essentially, we take food that would otherwise be tossed and upcycle it into the social service stream. Each year, about 40% of all food produced in the U.S. (over 63 million tons of food) is wasted, and around the world that number is ⅓ of our global food supply. Our fleet of refrigerated vehicles recover and distribute over 75,000 pounds of fresh, healthy food and feed over 30,000 people every single week.

Since the COVID pandemic began, Lovin’ has rescued over 700,000 pounds of fresh healthy food, and we are currently working with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to meet the need for fresh, healthy food for our waiting list of nonprofits who address food insecurity by delivering an additional 5,000 meals each week. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a 250% increase in partnership applications from organizations feeding people in Massachusetts.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls not only rescues and delivers all food within the same day, but we also do it in a dignified and fair way that builds a relationship with our partners and, most importantly, the community. Each highly trained and ServSafe certified Food Rescue Coordinator picks up and delivers to the same organizations each week on a meticulously planned route, enabling them to develop a personal relationship with beneficiaries and learn what they can use most. It’s so important to root work like this in the relationships we have with our partners, and ask how we can be helpful, what do they need — people should never have to accept food if it doesn’t meet their dietary, religious or medical restrictions. My grandmother always said “when you give, give with warm hands.”

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

It was a phenomenal accident. I can’t say that I had always wanted to start a non-profit, or that I had big dreams of starting a company. In fact, and I say this a lot, I didn’t really know or consider myself an entrepreneur until someone called me one. I didn’t know anything about starting a company, but having been an athlete for most of my younger life, I did know that success comes from having great people on your team. It’s a heavy lift for sure. Startup culture isn’t for most people — and folks find that out pretty quickly here. But our team is committed, to each other and to the people we serve. LS is a natural extension of the questions I think we all have had at one time or another: What happens to the food that we waste? How much are we actually wasting in the first place? Why are people still hungry with all the food that’s out there? So for me, it was really about finding the connective tissue between those questions and saying, “I wonder if we can try something different?” It was totally blind, really elementary in the beginning. And in some ways it still is, which is why I think we’ve found some success and sustainability. While the operations have become much more sophisticated and consistent, the conversations we have and the questions we ask ourselves are pretty much the same: How do we do more — safely, efficiently and with the most impact? Where were we successful today? Where can we improve? We’ve gone literally from the trunk of my car to seven geographically based trucks, a staff of over 20 employees and a network of over 200+ partners.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Honestly, I think turning 30 and looking at the prior ten years of my life. I had cleaned up from a heroin addiction, and at that point (when I started LS) was sober about a decade. I had just moved back to Boston after thinking I would never live here again. So I was back in my hometown that felt brand new, all my friends had moved away, I was starting over in so many ways — and I suppose I was open to something new, even a new career. Never in a million years had I ever thought about starting a business. Especially a nonprofit. I had such an attitude about charity, and I probably still do. But something about unnecessary problems getting worse kept me up at night. And I definitely was reconnecting to my family history, and started to think a lot about people who may have been in a position to help, or had done something differently — Would that have made a difference? And I felt compelled to see this through. But, I wanted to do it differently so I committed to learning everything I could about food waste and hunger. Having the ability to intentionally and collaboratively build a company and a culture from the ground up has been a tremendous privilege. And actually a weighty responsibility the farther we go.

What sets our work apart is our standard of practice. Food itself is one of the fastest growing industries and spaces out there, tons of startups and new ideas launching every day. In so many ways, it’s just awesome to see. But in terms of food rescue, it’s so important to us at LS to keep the folks we’re serving at the forefront, rather than a business opportunity. Making impact means efficiency, responsibility and consistency. We have all of our partners on a set schedule, we utilize digital inventory, all of our vehicles are temperature controlled, and we do not use volunteers. We sometimes get some heat for that, but I always say that if we’re talking about the health of people, we are obligated to focus on the health of the food. Our staff is fully trained, ServSafe certified, and we provide strategic relationship management for all of our partners. At the end of the day, suffering and crisis need direct response and direct solutions. I’m most proud of who we are internally. We offer a living wage, full health benefits for both full and part time employees, and we are all working from the core of our mission. Inspired by one of our Board Members, we created a Community Bill of Rights for our team. It’s a riff on being that change we’re trying to create in the world.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I did everything backwards! I probably skipped a lot, too. I didn’t try to build anything at the beginning. It was all research. But physical research. So I was getting the full picture of what excess looked like at the retail and wholesale level, and doing a deep dive where the need was. I just kept trying to do the next right thing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I met my wife and got married! That has absolutely nothing to do with work. But it happened since I started LS.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Boston TV show that highlights the community was doing a story on LS, and came to film a rescue and distribution. At that time it was pretty much just me, and our first vehicle was a refrigerated van that had belonged to Edible Arrangements. They were filming me pulling away from the grocery store, and I backed into a parked car. They mercifully didn’t air that part, and incidentally trucks are much easier to drive. The lesson is that so long as no one is hurt, it’s okay. Every single driver experiences some kind of “oh s**t” moment, and it’s okay.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I was so lucky to have folks who advised me along the way, and still do. My dear friend of over 20 years, Andrew Zimmern, has been incredibly vocal and supportive, and done so much to educate me, and really everyone about the real issues surrounding food. My dear friend Christopher Myers, a hospitality legend and the big brother I never wanted, he and his wife (celebrity baker) Joanne Chang have been so supportive, helping me understand the world of hospitality, nonprofits and truly the relationship successful businesses have within the community. They are two of the truly best humans I’ve ever met. And while my time with him was too brief, I was introduced to former Mayor Thomas Menino at LS’ very first benefit. We became fast friends, and he schooled me around city politics and city government. He was larger than life, and always said “Just help. Always help.”

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I never was super into “charity,” so it’s always been strange that I ended up here. I just don’t think of public service or social service as charity. To be honest, instituting a national true living wage and the funding of public service could drastically eliminate the construct of public welfare as a private sector responsibility. So while our work lives here for now, we don’t treat it as a traditional charity — our emphasis is on our end user with the value and attention that for profits assign their customers. We somehow devalue the services of nonprofit because of the way we think about “charity” and philanthropy. Most often we value the donor, board member or philanthropist over the service, or even the end-user. If you think about the social, economical implications of what this sector provides to the community, we really missed the boat on a signing at the highest value there is — human value. That, in theory should be enough to shift food rescue if not hunger relief out of nonprofit and actually put some monetary value there.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Sustainability — a buzzword for almost everybody right now. Prioritizing feeding people and preventing harmful greenhouse gas emissions are able to simultaneously exist as twin goals. Outside of ensuring my company’s process emphasizes the end user and planet, the question of “why businesses should embrace sustainability?” in general is a no brainer. There are so many answers. On a granular level inputs and outputs rely on each other, and when one dries up, you’re f’d. When it comes to food, which is arguably the most central and critical component of our global ecosystem, it’s crucial and in my opinion, mandatory. We are living in different times, the population of our planet is soaring to 9 billion people in the next few decades — we have to embrace the idea of responsibility, and I believe it is incumbent on us as business owners to embrace and actually operate sustainably for the future. How we operate matters! The challenge is the food system, and the lack of spec solutions. Overproduction is a problem, lack of responsibility on the other side is a problem, and that lack of value turns into an unsustainable way for a business to continue to grow, or even sustain. Business owners have to do better — they have to think about HOW they operate every step of the way.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone had told me to fundraise harder at the beginning. It was always about meeting the need, which is of course altruistic. Keeping the lights on, especially understanding the criticality of reserves now in COVID times is fundamental.
  2. I wish someone had told me the difference between gratitude and obligation. I had someone who was donating a fair amount of money at the beginning, and had held a fundraiser at a property they owned. They invited a ton of fancy people, asked me to secure some fantastic chefs for a private dinner party — and then didn’t treat it as a fundraiser. As the party was winding down they told me to have the place cleaned up by the morning, and to lock up on the way out. I was all dressed up, having raised no money, cleaning this person’s house. I had basically thrown them a dinner party free of charge. Lesson learned.
  3. Not everyone will care for the reasons I think they should. And that’s 100% okay. Need a tax break? Fine by me. At the beginning, I took people’s interest and their reasons personally — and at the end of the day, I don’t answer to that. I answer to the people we serve.
  4. I wish someone had told me just how big of a jerk some men can be, especially older white men who have “industry cred.” Not much to say, except there’s been a lot of pats on my head as if to say “good job little girl, your project is nice.”
  5. Don’t try and hide your inexperience. Not having a background in nonprofit or food has given me incredible perspective and language to “bottom-line” issues that are usually “political” or danced-around. There’s freedom in that.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Anybody can start a business. Anybody can assume the title of founder, or entrepreneur. There’s so much hype about the space, and being disruptive, and using all the buzzwords — get out there and punch today in the face! I don’t want to punch today in the face. It’s okay to be reasonable, pragmatic — maybe even rational. But don’t do it just for the sake of doing it. Find purpose, be intentional, figure out what outcomes matter to you and how you can get there.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” This literally influences every single area of my life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Barack Obama. I am in awe of his decency. I would get coffee for his intern.

How can our readers follow you online?

To learn more about Lovin’ Spoonfuls or to donate to the organization, please visit . For the latest updates and events, join Lovin’s or follow on (@lovinspoonfuls), (@LovinFoodRescue) or (@lovinspoonfuls). My website is ashley-stanley.com and my Instagram is @real_ashley_s.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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