Vancouver Food Runners is a Canadian non-profit focusing on redirecting food waste in Vancouver. They partner with hotels, restaurants, urban farms, catering and meal prep companies, campuses, cafeterias and the film industry in order to retrieve their surplus food and redirect it to non-profit organizations that redistribute the food to the community. Their app technology and volunteer drivers help make this initiative possible. We spoke with Michelle Reining, the Executive Director of Vancouver Food Runners, to learn more.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
At Vancouver Food Runners (VFR), a Canadian registered charity, we respond to the unfortunate disconnect between the fact that 58% of all the food produced in Canada is wasted or lost each year, while 1 in 7 households in B.C. are food insecure. Leveraging app technology, volunteer engagement, and public-private partnerships, we prevent perfectly good food from entering the waste stream – where it can negatively harm the environment – and instead redirect it to nonprofit partners that are working with community members experiencing food insecurity. It is estimated that 6-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are the result of wasted food, and VFR directly addresses this urgent challenge. Since VFR launched in March 2020, VFR volunteers have delivered over 2.5 million pounds of food (2 million meals) to nearby nonprofits and mitigated over 5 million pounds of CO2 equivalent. Check out this short video to learn more.
What problem does it aim to solve?
At Vancouver Food Runners, we strategically partner with smaller food businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, urban farms, catering and meal prep companies, cafeterias, campuses, and even the film industry. These are businesses and sectors that have not historically had a way to donate their surplus food because it’s challenging to send a truck for same-day food donation collection (many food recovery organizations use trucks and have scheduled routes). Our innovative use of app technology and volunteer drivers allows us to rescue these smaller donations of fresh food – like high-quality prepared meals – that are currently being thrown away by many businesses.
When did you start/join it?
I’ve been involved with Vancouver Food Runners (VFR) since late 2019, before VFR formally launched its program in March 2020. I have known VFR’s founder and board chair Tristan Jagger since we were young (we grew up next to each other as neighbours!). Tristan was particularly concerned about the high level of food security among children in B.C. (1 in 6 children are food insecure), and she identified the Food Rescue Hero technology and wanted to bring it to Vancouver. I have a background in nonprofit work (research and policy advocacy), we had a coffee to explore to project, and I’ve been involved with VFR ever since!
What made you want to get involved?
At the time, I had finished up a master’s degree in public health, and my three children were still quite young. I had worked for three different nonprofits while I was based in Malaysia for nine years, but we moved back to Vancouver (my hometown) when my son started kindergarten.
When Tristan and I connected about VFR, I was ready to start something new, and I’m so glad we connected. It’s been quite a learning journey and a true joy to watch the program expand and evolve; to have new team members join VFR; and to see the positive impact the program is having in Metro Vancouver.
What was the situation like when you started?
VFR launched during COVID-19 in March 2020, just when the pandemic started. Sadly, restaurants, hotels, and food businesses were shutting down at the time (it was a very hard time for the food industry); but we were uniquely positioned to help them get their surplus food to nearby nonprofits to put it to good use for the community. We actually launched early, before we even had the VFR app developed for Vancouver, because we started getting calls from businesses about their surplus food. Because we had already started mapping out nonprofits that could receive donations, we were able to quickly match the donations with organizations running food programs. Thankfully, the VFR app was up and running by June 2020, a few months later, and this made coordinating all the food rescues so much easier.
How has it changed since?
VFR’s program has scaled considerably since the organization started: We currently partner with 160+ food businesses and 125+ nonprofits, and 2600+ volunteers are now registered on the VFR app. Our program is needed more than ever, as food insecurity is on the rise due to poverty, housing affordability, food price inflation, and childcare costs. It should be noted, though, that food donations can’t solve food insecurity – we need long-term policy solutions to address the root cause of food insecurity, which is poverty. VFR plays a supportive role, providing amazing organizations, like YWCA, Covenant House, Lookout Housing and Health Society, with fresh, healthy food donations for their essential community food programming.
What more needs to be done?
There is always more that needs to be done! At VFR, we really touch upon two key issues: food waste and food insecurity. On the food waste side, businesses need to prevent food waste within their operations. Food waste is often considered normal in the food sector, and it’s about really making this issue visible and addressing it. And, of course, if there is some food left over, this is where organizations, such as VFR, come in, to help put this surplus to its best end use.
On the food insecurity side, it’s complex. Poverty is a challenging problem, and Community Food Centres Canada is doing some progressive advocacy work on this issue, including looking at the tax system, strengthening social supports, and ensuring that policies are implemented equitably.
How can our readers help?
There are a number of ways to help:
Volunteering with VFR is incredibly easy! Just download the free VFR app from either the Apple Store or through Google Play. Once you register, you can see the food rescues available near you. Simply claim the one that works with your schedule, and you will be provided with all the details to complete your food rescue. You can learn more here.
VFR’s program is free for both food businesses and nonprofit partners, to ensure it is accessible. If you’re interested in supporting VFR’s program with a financial donation, you can do so here.
Finally, talk to the food businesses you frequent about getting involved with food recovery, and let them know about VFR’s free food recovery program. Help to spread the word!
Do you have any events coming up?
VFR is hosting a virtual event on Wed, September th at 12 p.m., a Virtual Lunch & Learn – Exploring Food Waste: Challenges & Solutions. We have lots of great speakers in the food industry joining us to share their knowledge and insights on reducing food waste! You can register here for free.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
We love the team at Food Stash Foundation – they’re awesome! Food Stash is another food recovery organization in Vancouver that uses trucks to collect large food donations. We work in collaboration throughout the month. If there is a large donation that is too big for us, we reach out to them; and if they hear of a smaller donation that is too small for them, we get the call. Collaboration is the key to solving complex challenges – working together, we try to ensure that no food goes to waste!