A Day in The Life of a Food Rescue Hero

It is an early start for a Second Harvest driver. By 7:00am they have already packed and loaded hundreds of pounds of food into the bed of their truck, and by 8:00am Second Harvest1they are on the road. Seven Second Harvest trucks and one van operate every day of the week and the drivers may spend over 10 hours delivering, picking up and storing food in one day. These drivers, along with countless Second Harvest volunteers and employees spend their days this way in order to bring surplus food, that would otherwise go to waste, to hungry people across the City of Toronto. These Second Harvest workers are Food Rescue Heroes.

Second Harvest is an organization based out of North Toronto that delivers food to agencies all over the City of Toronto. In 2013, they brought excess food to over 200 social service agencies and reached more than 100,000 people per month. The model behind Second Harvest is to “connect surplus food, that would otherwise go to waste, with people who are hungry.” This approach started in 1985 with Ina Andre and Joan Clayton who drove around the city collecting surplus food from restaurants and grocery stores and bringing it to hungry people. Ina and Joan noticed a gap between the amount of food wasted and the number of hungry people living in Toronto. The work of these women have improved the state of hunger in Inside the truckToronto but even after 30 years of service, there is still a gap between food waste and food insecurity. Today in Canada, 1 in 8 families struggle to put food on the table and approximately 40% of Canadians requiring food assistance are youth, under the age of 18. At the same time, about 27 billion dollars worth of food is wasted each year in Canada and a large portion (40%) of this food waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. Second Harvest aims to reduce both the amount of food wasted and the number of hungry people in Toronto.

Each day, the drivers from Second Harvest spend their morning delivering food to various agencies throughout the city. They may bring food to youth programs, community health centres, women’s shelters and long term care facilities. The trucks stop at predetermined locations and with the help of volunteers and agency staff members, food is lifted from the truck and into the kitchen. The delivered food may include fresh produce, bread products, dairy, canned goods, meat products and ready-made meals. Second Harvest tries to rescue perishable food items most often, such as produce and dairy, as emergency food programs often have limited access to these types of foods. However, Second Harvest Second Harvest2will not turn down non-perishables if that means less food wasted and fewer hungry people.

After delivering food to various organizations, the Second Harvest drivers will visit several food retail or distribution centres and pick up food that cannot be sold for consumption. Many grocery stores, restaurants and large food production companies donate food to Second Harvest. Often food products are wasted because they are approaching the expiry date, they are overstocked, mislabeled or the packaging has been damaged. The role of Second Harvest is to divert this food from the landfill to the hands of Torontonians in need. Not only does Second Harvest’s actions help to reduce hunger in the city, but by limiting the amount of food waste they are also limiting the production of unnecessary greenhouse gases. In fact, the work of Second Harvest has helped to prevent over 40 million pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents from entering the atmosphere.

Along with the work of the Second Harvest drivers who pick-up and deliver food across the city, other members of Second Harvest help by organizing fundraising events, connecting with food donors, and developing complementary programs such as the Harvest Kitchens. Harvest Kitchens are partnership programs that offer food skills training to under-employed youth and adults, where healthy meals are created and donated to the service agencies associated with Second Harvest. Other initiatives that help make the mission of Second Harvest possible are various fundraising initiatives that are organized by company employees. Two of Second Harvest’s major annual initiatives are Hero Workplace Fundraiser and Toronto Taste, and in 2014 the Toronto Taste event raised $690,000, enough to provide more than 1,300,000 meals to people in need in Toronto. Along with these fundraisers, several corporate sponsors provide in-kind donations to Second Harvest while other organizations such as big supermarket chains like Loblaws have an agreement with Second Harvest to consistently donate food.

Second Harvest 3Second Harvest would not be able to operate without the help of the drivers, the employees, the volunteers, donors and community partners. Without these Food Rescue Heroes, much more food would become waste and many more people would go hungry. Second Harvest is a leader in the city’s Food Rescue mission!