Operation: rescue food

by Melody Brooks

“This is a preventable problem.” — Lourdes Juan

It happens regularly in homes and businesses across our city and around the world. Uneaten food on dinner plates is scraped into the trash, crates of produce are rejected because their shape or colour doesn’t meet marketable standards and otherwise edible food items are tossed out for being slightly beyond the optimal freshness date.

Reducing waste and meeting a need

Unwilling to sit back and do nothing as tonnes of food is wasted every year, Lourdes Juan and her volunteer team at Leftovers are responding by rescuing food that would otherwise end up in the garbage and donating it to local social service agencies. “We shouldn’t be wasting food and there are people who go without food,” explains Lourdes. “It [starting Leftovers] just made sense to me.”

The grassroots initiative revolves around three areas of engagement: the businesses that donate surplus food, the social service agencies that receive the food, and the volunteers who provide the pick-up and delivery service. For the local cafes, bakeries, restaurants, markets and grocery stores that participate, Leftovers takes care of the logistics that might otherwise make it hard for a business to donate unsold food.

It’s a convenient and free service that business owners appreciate. Many participate out of a desire to support the local community and not see their excess food go to waste. “Nobody should be left hungry on the streets,” notes local bakery owner and Leftovers donor Manuel Latruwe. “There is [a lot of food] going to waste daily that can be donated by businesses all across the city.”


Harnessing people’s passion

Lourdes and her sister, Portia, attribute the surprising growth of Leftovers in the past three years to the many dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the cause. And that passion, they say, is key to the continued success of the organization.

“The growth we’ve experienced without any monetary support has been incredible,” says Portia. “It shows how much people understand that we live in a culture of excess and consumerism and they want to do their part.” While some of Leftovers’ volunteers are inspired to participate out of a concern for the environment and a conviction that good food should not go to waste, others join because they are keen to support local social service agencies in carrying out their missions.

Staff of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre receiving a food donation from Leftovers

Growing a nonprofit on volunteer power alone has been both a success and a challenge. Lourdes and Portia recognize there are untapped businesses and agencies that want to participate in the program — and volunteers who are needed to make that happen. Securing funding for marketing, awareness and educational initiatives is a high priority for both women as they look to grow the capacity and reach of Leftovers.


Every action counts

Apart from the service offered to local businesses, Leftovers wants to also reach individuals with its food rescue message. From developing a willingness to buy misshapen produce to recognizing tasty ways to use over-ripe or slightly bruised produce to taking uneaten restaurant food home in a take-out box, Lourdes and Portia want to change the way people think about food and food waste.

“There are so many things within the food industry that people can change their mindsets on,” insists Lourdes. “We would love to start educating people at the grocer and retail level, as well as in schools.” Both women are spurred on by the belief that every action counts when looking to make a difference on an issue like food waste. They also find satisfaction in knowing that Leftovers is providing environmental and social benefits to the Calgary community.

Whether making a food delivery or discussing food security as a local panel participant, Lourdes and Portia bring an energy and dedication to the work that is fueled by the passion of like-minded volunteers and others they encounter. Their leadership and resolve in tackling the food waste problem has, in turn, helped to inspire a local movement. “This is a preventable problem. We are making a dent because of the passion and shared value that people have for this cause.”


Visit rescuefood.ca to learn more.