ReFed Launches Fund To Help Organizations Address Food Waste and Provide Hunger Relief

Thomas Schueneman

Food waste is always a problem. People still go hungry. These problems are only worse as the food supply chain is disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. ReFed's Food Waste Solutions Fund helps organizations respond to the crisis.

ReFed, a non-profit committed to reducing U.S. food waste, launched a COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund to quickly deliver funding to organizations addressing food waste and providing hunger relief.

To date, ReFed has provided more than $1 million in grants, helping to prevent over 10 million pounds of waste and rescue 8.3 million meals. ReFed will also continue to raise up to $10 million in donations that to be granted to other organizations. An average of $50,000 will be granted to each organization, and all that is given will go directly to food waste solution providers that are well-vetted.

“The ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund is helping to get critical support to for-profit and nonprofit organizations working on the front lines to rescue food that might otherwise go to waste during the pandemic,” said Alexandria Coari, Capital and Innovation Director at ReFED.

“We’re grateful for the support of everyone who has made a contribution or applied for funding.”

The first four recipients of ReFed grants

The first four recipients of the ReFed grants are Boston Area Gleaners, Food Rescue U.S., Forager, and SeaShare. Boston Area Gleaners organizes volunteer trips to local farms to harvest fruits and vegetables that would go to waste. The gleaned produce is then distributed to agencies that serve families who need it. The organization is helping respond to the pandemic by providing trucking and logistics support to producers with surplus food and community-based organizations.

Food Rescue U.S. describes itself as a “technology-based, volunteer-driven, direct-transfer platform.” It uses volunteer food rescuers from across the country to deliver fresh food from businesses with surpluses to social service agencies. The organization recently launched in New Orleans, a city with a high food insecurity rate. In Miami, the organization provided more than 411,000 meals and kept over 360,000 pounds of food from landfills.

Maine-based Forager connects farmers to markets. The organization is working with government officials, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and the private sector to help solve the problem that the pandemic poses to the U.S. food supply.

SeaShare provides a way for the seafood industry to donate to hunger-relief efforts in the country. Over 220 million seafood servings have been donated through the organization. Recently, the organization helped coordinate E&E Foods donating 110,000 pounds of wild Alaska smelt to food banks and provided over two million servings of wild Alaska pollock to food banks across the U.S.

COVID-19 disrupts the U.S. food system

Covid-19 disrupts the U.S. food system, including empty store shelves, restaurant closures, and new safety precautions. ReFed reviewed food businesses, food recovery organizations, and others in the U.S. food supply chain to understand the impact of the pandemic on the food system. What the findings show is that no part of our food system is not impacted by the pandemic.

Farms are hit especially hard by the pandemic. The closure of restaurants and food services and cruise line and airline cancellations mean farmers are experiencing short term waste. Crops planted continue to grow and cows keep producing milk despite the closure and cancellations. Although farmworkers are classified as essential, many farms are still experiencing labor shortages because of challenges with international travel and the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Processors are experiencing two to three times the demand from grocery store clients but are also experiencing less demand from restaurant outlets. They have to cope with social distancing measures that disrupt operations and production. Distributors, who mainly served the foodservice industry, are experiencing a large surplus due to canceled orders and having to house all of that food.

“COVID-19 has disrupted the regular flow of the food supply chain, making it difficult to get fresh, healthy food to the people who need it most and increasing the amount of food insecurity,” said Alexandria Coari, Capital and Innovation Director at ReFed.

Food waste is a problem with or without a pandemic. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted. That amounted to around 133 billion pounds and $161 billion of food in 2010. Food waste winds up in landfills where it gives off methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 30 times that of carbon dioxide, as it rots. 

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