May 29, 2015
by Parul Thukral

Each year billions of pounds of surplus food from farmers, manufacturers and retailers is lost to landfills while 49 million Americans, including nearly 16 million children, lack reliable access to food.

Feeding America has a large network of food banks and agencies (food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens etc.) as well as a highly sophisticated trucking model that rescues 4 billion lbs. of food annually through its more traditional large channels. While rescuing surplus food from any channel is not easy, today, very little food waste generated through the local food service channel (such as restaurants, bakeries, hotels, convenience stores, etc.) is being recovered for human consumption, as this excess food is generally highly perishable and comes in smaller volumes, creating operational and economic viability barriers. Consequently, extras from local food sources often ends up going to waste.

To address this problem, Feeding America created its newest food rescue initiative, Online Marketplace. Online Marketplace aims to eliminate current barriers to highly perishable, small-volume food rescue by directly connecting donors to meal service programs and food pantries nearby with the oversight of the local food bank. The Feeding America team works extensively with food service donors to establish internal donation protocol. Once that protocol is established, we then begin to connect the donors with the food bank, and the food bank then connects them to local food pantries or meal programs they can directly donate to. These food pantries or meal programs then distribute the food locally to those in need, many times on the same day as the pick-up. 

With targeted investments, Feeding America has created tools to support Online Marketplace at food banks, pantries and food sources across the country. We’ve developed educational guides, such as a food safety manual, and standard operating procedures for the operation of local donation programs. In addition, Feeding America has created a robust platform that leverages technology to build efficiencies in rescuing and moving food more quickly and safely from the donor to the people served by the Feeding America network. The Online Marketplace platform enables food banks to more effectively connect and manage these local relationships and ensure efficient recording and receipting of donated pounds at the local level for our donors.

Recently, Online Marketplace (which initially launched in February 2014) received a big honor from Google for its technology platform. Feeding America was awarded a $1.6 million Google Global Impact Award to sustain and advance the technology of Online Marketplace program. Google’s support will help us make Online Marketplace even more efficient in sourcing and distributing food and ultimately, enhance our efforts to solve hunger.

Food waste is a serious problem, but the fact that 49 million Americans face hunger is an even bigger one. Feeding America has a bold new goal to meet the need by 2025 and Online Marketplace will be a key tool to helping us achieve this goal while at the same time reducing waste. As we continue to ramp up this innovative new initiative , it is anticipated that it will contribute to the recovery of 500 million meals per year – meals that can instead provide nourishment – and hope – to families across the country struggling to get by.

*Parul Thukral is the director of product sourcing innovation at Feeding America.

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , How We Work

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