INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to social entrepreneurs and leaders of mission-driven organizations who are making an impact in their communities and industries.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Denver Food Rescue is a community-based organization in Denver, Colorado, which focuses on improving health equity outcomes for low-income people by increasing access to healthy food in a culturally appropriate way. For the most part, we pick up healthy, delicious food that would otherwise go to waste from grocery stores and deliver it directly to schools and other convenient locations that did not do food distribution before. This way we can reach people who aren’t likely to visit food pantries. Best of all, almost all of the food we donate is fresh produce and all the distribution programs (No Cost Grocery Programs) are led by residents of the neighborhood. In addition to Grocery Programs, we also run a backyard garden rescue program called Fresh Food Connect along with Groundwork Denver and Denver Urban Gardens. We run a couple employment programs, including our social enterprise, Abarrotes Bondadosa, an affordable grocery delivery service committed to community. This year, we’re also trying to start a fruit and vegetable prescription program with a local hospital.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
We do our work because we think it’s wrong that based on where you live, you race, your income, or other factors, you have a greater chance of diet related illness. We think that having access to food that will benefit your health versus harm it is a fundamental right. Our mission is to produce health equity with Denver neighborhoods, and we will employ just about any tactic within our abilities to get that done. The most important work in that mission statement is “with,” because we are fully dedicated to the idea that those who are most affected by a problem should be the ones to craft the solution.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Denver Food Rescue makes a positive impact in three areas: health equity, food waste reduction, and grocery savings for low-income individuals and families. Since our inception in 2012, we have rescued more than one million pounds of food, half of which was rescued in 2017 alone. We have 16 No Cost Grocery Programs which are open to the public and are located directly in the communities to guarantee easy access to quality food. This last year, we reached almost 10,000 new unique families through these programs, bringing the total to 36,000 people reached. This is more than 15% of the 200,000 people who live in low or moderate income neighborhoods in Denver. The redistribution of more than 500,000 pounds of food in 2017 generated more than $1.8 million in grocery savings total, or more than $570 per family.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
We have relationships with people who experience negative health outcomes as a result of barriers to accessing healthy food. When we see and hear firsthand about that relationship, it inspires us to do the work we do. Especially after hearing people express how healthy food and food access is the solution that they want to combat negative health outcomes. Relationships surrounding the values we hold as an organization are what motivates and inspires us to make an impact in societal systems that goes beyond the basic idea of providing food to low-income neighborhoods.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
The dream is that we work ourselves out of a job! We envision communities being independent from us in the sense that there is more equitable access to healthy food and the health benefits it provides. We are currently responsible for recruiting and training volunteers, volunteer coordination, implementing food safety procedures, and fostering the relationship between donors and volunteers. It would be great to have all these basic operations taken on by community members, who already lead the grocery programs. We also have high aspirations for Fresh Food Connect, which is a mobile app that allows gardeners to indicate an excess of healthy food available for donation. Youth are employed to use an electric tricycle to pick up excess food straight from the source and bring it to pay-what-you-can farm stands. This platform could ultimately be a virtual farmers market and a tool that contributes to the growth of local food systems by allowing gardeners to have a place in the market to sell food. Right now gardeners only donate excess vegetables, but ultimately we want to move toward reimbursement or payment for the gardeners. Abarrotes Bondadosa is an exciting new social enterprise that has been in the works for a few years now. Bondadosa provides affordable and reliable access to groceries in low-income Denver neighborhoods through a grocery delivery service with no membership fees and no delivery charges. We want to have a business dedicated to relationships and doing things the nice way. This business could exist all around the country someday, and is an additional way to increase access to healthy food for food-insecure populations.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
At this stage, DFR, Fresh Food Connect, and Abarrotes Bondadosa are in phases of capacity building. We have great ideas, great people, and great ambitions; we just need the funding and the capacity to bring our dreams to fruition. In addition to funding, we want feedback! Listening and integrating feedback is a core value of DFR, and we strive to learn as much as we can about the world and the ways our work affects the people in it. We welcome your constructive feedback and would love to meet you in person!
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Normally what nonprofits say is that they struggle to get community buy-in. Instead, for us, the biggest challenge is to actually challenge the existing norms and expectations surrounding what this type of work looks like. We are not a food pantry and what we want to do is a lot more impactful in terms of changing societal systems. Many people see us or hear about us and assume we are part of the traditional food pantry system, which is not the case. We are actually quite different because of our specific focus on health equity and because of our organizational structure. We have a lot of community buy-in because we rely on communities to provide us with direct feedback about services and programs. We don’t want to just be a response to issues of food-insecurity and food-waste and contribute to those systems that already exist. Instead, we recognize that they are subsystems of poverty and that true systemic change needs to happen. We need the general public to understand this as well.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
Bring everyone to the table. The best way to make a meaningful impact is to utilize the ideas of people who are experts of their own experiences. This should be both at the general population level and at the community leadership level. Be clear about what your mission is among staff, board members, communities, and the general public. Put people first and have open communication within the organization and in partnership with communities.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We rely heavily on volunteers! We have almost 200 volunteers who help with our food pickup and deliveries. We also rely on our Members, who donate monthly to help sustain and grow our work. Since our board members are residents and our board does not focus on fundraising, we have a Leadership Circle that does focus on fundraising and that people can join.
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