When Leah Lizarondo learned that an astonishing 40% of food produced in America is thrown away every year, she decided to do something about it. In 2015 she started 412 Food Rescue with Giselle Fetterman (wife of Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman) to prevent perfectly good food in the Pittsburgh area from going to landfills. A year later, Lizarondo helped build Food Rescue Hero, a platform that mobilizes volunteers – now in more than 25 cities in the U.S. and Canada – to pick up surplus food from restaurants or grocery stores and deliver it to those who need it most. Some 34,000 volunteers are now registered on the Food Rescue Hero app (which has been called the “Uber of Food Rescue.”) Together they’ve saved an estimated 124 million pounds of food. And Lizarondo has accomplished another big goal: helping to make the planet a bit greener, as food waste in landfills is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. “It’s been inspiring for me to see what can be made possible,” she says.
For more, read our related story on Lizarondo: A Food Advocate Plans Next Chapter Battling Climate Change
Leah: There's a big environmental impact in wasting food. Food waste is the number one component in landfills. It is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
TEXT: Every year we throw away 40% of our food.
Leah: 40% of the food supply in the U.S., that's 62 million tons of food. I can't even visualize that.
L/T: Pittsburgh, PA
L/T: Leah Lizarondo – Founder – Food Rescue Hero
Leah: Food Rescue Hero bridges the disconnect between the up to 40% surplus food that we produce in the United States, to the one in five who are food insecure.
Woman #1: The Church has been involved with this for quite a few years now.
Sue SOT: How many people do you feed every day?
Woman #1: Oh, my gosh. How many people do we feed?
Woman #2: Last time, we fed over 200 people.
Woman #1: We try to make sure that everybody gets some.
Woman #2: Every Wednesday!
TEXT: In 2012, Leah was working at a tech startup.
Leah: The first time that I saw the statistic that we waste 40% of our food, I started talking to my friends who are in the food business. My friends would say, “Oh, yes, I hate being the last shift because then I have to put all of this bread in a bag and throw it away.” Some of them would say, “Oh, yeah, but what I do is I take all of the food. Then on my way home, there is a church, and I would just drop it off.”
TEXT: Leah realized that technology could help rescue leftover food.
TEXT: In 2016 she launched the Food Rescue Hero app.
Leah: We work with food retailers, with workplaces, grocery stores, any place where there could be surplus food. We tell drivers where there's food that's available and where it's going, and, just like an Uber driver or a DoorDash driver, they see it, and they click on it and they say they'll take it.
L/T: Tim Brown
Tim: Everything we pick up today, gets delivered today, and it gets in the hands of the people in the community.
L/T: Light of Life Donation Center
Tim: 631 pounds!
Volunteer: Bravo! Yay, thank you!
L/T: Kayla Van Sant
Kayla: Yesterday, we had, I think, 73 families that came in and shopped and were able to get food with the help of 412 Food Rescue. Everything's free. We just we want it to be as close to a grocery store experience as possible. We want people to be able to come in and have the freedom to get what they want and what they need, and have us not choose that for them. We find that there's less waste that way.
Leah: In the beginning we would receive large quantities of a single thing—whether it's cabbage, whether it’s pineapple, whether it's bananas—and there was so much of it. All of it needs to be used right away.
Leah: Our nonprofit distribution partners, they would say no to it because there's so much. I remember one point, we were pretty fairly shocked that people were saying no.
Leah: That's when we thought, well, what if we had a kitchen whose only job is to process these things? To use up food?
TEXT: In 2019, Leah started Good Food Project Kitchen.
L/T: Greg Austin
Leah: Greg is really the driver in this kitchen. He is the one that, you know, we saw the inventory downstairs. He looks at it, plans it out.
Greg: See if there’s anything else we can use…
Greg: The fresh goods come in every week from the truck. That's what I have to cook with, and so then I cook with them.
Greg: This is a recipe from a barbecue place I worked at ten years ago. It was the most popular side that they had there. They just called it cheesy potatoes. We tend to even out around eight partners; about 800 meals a week, we put out.
TEXT: Then Covid hit.
Leah: Everything was shutting down. The nonprofits were also closing down, so they couldn’t really receive this food. Our nonprofit partners were telling us, “There's so many people need. They're stuck at home. They have no other way to get food.”
Leah: One of the most inspiring things to us, we experienced in the ensuing months—so many volunteers suddenly wanting to do something, or just wanting to know how they could help.
TEXT: Leah’s organization began to deliver directly to people’s homes.
L/T: Jenna Gore
Jenna: You can volunteer as little or as much as you want. I volunteer. I got to volunteer like three times in the last week.
Brian: Hey, what’s up?
Jenna: Hi, Brian. This is Jenna from 412 Rescue. I hit a red light. I’m pulling up soon, okay?
Jenna: Hi, Brian.
Brian: Hi, Jen.
Jenna: How are you?
Brian: Good. They brought back memories. You take care.
Jenna: You too!
TEXT: Food Rescue Hero estimates they’ve kept nearly 100 million pounds of food out of landfills.
Tim: You're just more aware of it when you see the amount that, you know, we rescue every day that you—it's got to change your behavior over time, a little bit.
Leah: If there's more of us, maybe we can do something about climate change collectively. One of the things about climate change that is very difficult is that a lot of us can't imagine it. But if you talk about it in terms of, “My carload of food that was headed to the garbage and landfill. And it was only saved because of you.” Then you can have an idea that maybe this small thing that I can do can actually make a difference.
Jenna: Hi, Mary. Yes, I have your dinner with me.
Leah: And that, I think, helps people get out of this sense of despair when it comes to climate, because they see their role in terms of making an impact on it.
Jenna: There’s actually an extra meal today.