Marjorie Londono opened up the trunk of her car packed with boxes of fresh fruit and food so that an employee of the Jewish Family Services of Greenwich could load it up on a hand truck on a Monday evening.
Londono is a middleman of sorts. She brings food no longer needed by retailers to food banks and soup kitchens. But she’s no saleswoman.
“It’s always been about helping, rather than making money”, Londono said.
Londono is a volunteer at Food Rescue US, a nonprofit which takes unused, excess food from retailers, grocers, and farmers markets. The group then delivers the food to nonprofit social service organizations throughout Fairfield County.
But the nonprofit faces many of the same challenges food pantries face like securing funding and sourcing food.
Haley Schulman, the co-site director for Food Rescue US’s Fairfield County site, said the group is trying to get more donors as it brings people from different walks of life together and builds community.
Londono picked up the food from a Trader Joe’s in Stamford. One source Schulman has in mind are retailers and donors in Bridgeport.
“In 2024, we do have a target to increase the number of Bridgeport donors… we (are) really trying to focus our efforts in finding inner town rescues”, Schulman said.
One reason why Bridgeport doesn’t have as many potential donors is the lack of grocers offering fresh food in the area, which is known as a food desert. That also makes it harder for groups like Food Rescue US to source food from the same communities it serves.
Multiple donors are listed from wealthy suburbs like Westport, but not as many donors come from cities like Bridgeport. Schulman said the group also works with a charter school and hospitals in the area.
Getting more donors not only expands excess inventory supply, it also gives groups like Food Rescue US more opportunities to access culturally diverse food, according to Paul Shipman, Senior Director of Network Resources at Connecticut Foodshare.
Shipman said certain cultural, ethnic and religious groups may have different dietary restrictions.
“We look for things that people are telling us they prefer… and you have people who are not eating meat for religious, cultural dietary reasons,” Shipman said.
But while Food Rescue US is looking for more donors, it already has a strong network of volunteers, who work off an app connecting them to retailers and drop off locations.
According to Schulman, 3,600 volunteers are now registered on the app. Pickups are available everyday.
Schulman said the food is of high quality, but is nearing its sell by date, especially for prepackaged food which she cautioned does not mean an expiration date.
Yet while retailers are protected by law from any liability from food donations, some retailers still erroneously believe they may be held responsible for any illness as a result of donated food.
Volunteers such as Londono spoke of their satisfaction in watching food that would have otherwise gone to waste, being used to feed people in need.
An employee of the social services agency hauled off the food on a hand truck, as Londono looked on. She’s in good company; Fairfield has the most volunteers at 424, with Westport coming in second with 422 and Stamford coming in at third with 420, according to Schulman.
That’s what makes Food Rescue US different from other organizations centered on food access, according to Meg Hadley, Food Security Coordinator for United Way of Coastal and Western Connecticut.
“It’s sad sometimes how much food goes to waste, when there are people who could use it,” Hadley said. ”And it’s great that there is an organization like Food Rescue in our area that is helping to bridge that gap and take that food to where it needs to go.”
Funding can also be a challenge for Food Rescue US, Schulman said. According to its latest financial statement from 2021, it had a fund balance nearing $1 million. It gets part of its budget from grants. But she said it’s not enough.
So it relies on its annual fundraising drive as well as an upcoming concert.
“We’re in an interesting position where we have grown our programs so much and have achieved so much that the current funding that we have simply does not allow for it,” Schulman said, “It’s not leveling out.”
Funding issues within nonprofits that address food insecurity are pretty common according to Hadley.
“Finding funding is often hard, especially when there are so many organizations working in the same space,” Hadley said. “There’s competition for grants, because there aren’t necessarily a lot of them.”
Food Rescue US does have challenges, but it has also brought together many people who would have never crossed paths, or simply reconnected, according to Schulman. Volunteers who get started, end up learning about local food insecurity.
But it’s not necessarily a somber affair. Many people end up making lasting and genuine friendships with each other.
Schulman can speak from experience, driving with her grandmother on donation runs when she was still a volunteer.
“It was an opportunity for us to be together and to hang out in the car and to chat in a way we hadn’t really been able to do before,” Schulman said.