Food Rescue app saves 235,000 pounds in first year for Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland

Tom Cardello officially retired from the IT department at Sherwin-Williams in February 2018, and he was just beginning to look at volunteer opportunities to help fill his days.

As a veteran, serving in the U.S. Navy from 1979 to 1983 on the USS Nimitz, Cardello first turned to the VA Medical Center of Greater Cleveland (where he continues to volunteer today). While there, he heard about the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland’s recent launch of Food Rescue. The program lets volunteers and food donors download an app (for both Apple and Android cellphones) and sign up to receive alerts when a donation needs to be picked up and delivered to food pantries, youth programs, transitional housing, and other organizations that help feed the hungry.

Retiree Tom Cardello volunteers for the Hunger Network’s Food Rescue program picking up and delivering donations every Thursday and Friday.Cardello jumped at the opportunity. He's been picking up and delivering donations on Thursdays and Fridays, plus any time he’s needed the rest of the week, ever since Food Rescue launched a year ago this month.

Hunger Network launched Food Rescue, modeled after a program in Pittsburgh called 412 Food Rescue, to help reduce the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States, which is estimated to be 40%.

"Access to fresh, healthy food is a right, not a privilege,” says Stacy Soulimiotis, Hunger Network’s program director. “With only 10% of food donations nationwide being fresh produce, it is imperative that we find innovative ways to provide healthier options to food insecure individuals. One in five Cuyahoga County residents are food insecure. Food Rescue is an innovative way to address that issue and supplement fresh, healthy food to those we serve who wouldn’t otherwise have access.”

Since the Food Rescue app's launch Nov. 30 last year, Hunger Network has seen 544 volunteers download it, enrolled 42 food donors, rescued 235,000 pounds of food (worth $587,500) from those donors, and delivered it to 73 nonprofit agencies in Cuyahoga County helping the region’s hungry.

Additionally, 127,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions have been mitigated. “The food cannot properly decompose in landfills, therefore it emits methane emissions, “says Soulimiotis. “Food is the No. 1 material in landfills, therefore it’s the leading contributor of rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

Food donors include grocers, restaurants, caterers, and bakeries. “Our biggest donor is Giant Eagle, as they are focused on minimizing food waste," says Soulimiotis. Other donors include Perfectly Imperfect Produce, Bruegger’s Bagels, On the Rise Artisan Bread and Pastries, and Cleveland Vegan. “And now we are rescuing catering from movie sets, among other smaller donors,” she says.

When volunteers register with the Food Rescue app, they can list their preferences—preferred neighborhoods, times of day, or any place, any time—and the app will alert them when a rescue is waiting. The app also lets the volunteers indicate what size cars they drive, so larger orders will go to people with larger cars.

Food Rescue donors deliver to 73 nonprofit agencies in Cuyahoga County helping the region’s hungry.The app also instructs rescuers on “all of the details to get to the door, who to talk to, and details to get them to the right place,” Soulimiotis says.

Volunteers are eager to make rescues, she says. “A lot of them will do multiple rescues a day. There are some who do multiple days. They really love it, not seeing that food go to waste.”

Shelli Smith, who works “very part-time” at Cleveland Rocks and Beads in Cleveland Heights, started volunteering in February. She saw a plea for volunteers come across her Facebook feed and decided to answer the call, she says.

“It came up in my feed, and it sounded like a cool and doable thing, and I thought, 'Let’s give it a try',” Smith says. “I went crazy in the beginning, and I had days with multiple deliveries.” Now things have settled down, and she does regular pickups from the Giant Eagle in Beachwood, taking them to Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute, a nonprofit organization at Shaker Square that trains formerly incarcerated adults in culinary and hospitality training.

Not only has she gotten to meet a lot of the people who help the community, she’s gotten to see a lot more of the city, the lifelong Clevelander and Shaker Heights resident says. “One thing I like about it is I have gone to so many places in the city I have never seen before,” she says.

Smith fondly remembers when Brassica in Shaker Height's Van Aken District was training its staff before it opened, and she answered a rescue to pick up entire meals from the training and drop them off at a downtown Cleveland drop-in center for the homeless.

“Food is my comfort zone—whenever there’s a meal involved with cooking for 100 people, that’s me,” she says. “Food Rescue is just a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you do this?” Smith says she now has two friends who regularly make rescues for the Hunger Network.

Cardello says he finds someone else often picks up rescues before he even has a chance to respond. “As soon as I see a rescue pop up, within seconds it’s claimed,” he says, adding he’s done at least 120 rescues this year. “When I first got involved, there were only a handful of volunteers, and I was pretty busy, doing rescues four or five times a week.”

Although he drives a Honda Accord, Cardello says he has had some large loads. “I get anywhere from one box to 13 boxes, and I’ve had my entire vehicle loaded—front seat, back seat, and trunk,” he says. “They should have put [that load] out for a larger vehicle, but they put it out for mine.”

Smith, too, has sometimes eyed a rescue and doubted that she could fit the delivery in her Toyota Prius. But she’s always succeeded.

For Cardello, he says he gets a lot of satisfaction in volunteering for the Hunger Network. “What makes it all worthwhile is you see directly the payoff from your work,” he says. “You see the benefit of what it does directly, you see the recipients of the food—parents with kids, grandparents with kids, the elderly, sick people. It’s unlike writing a check. When I do Food Rescue, I can see first-hand the benefits of my work.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.