September 18, 2019, by Sekinah Brodie
I recently came across Philly Food Rescue on Linkedin and reached out to Shontae to learn more. She’s passionate about tackling food insecurity in the city and loves speaking about it when she has the opportunity. In the interview she talks challenges she’s faced within the organization, learning how resilient she can be, and everyday things we all can do to make an impact. You can listen to the interview here.
Shontae Smarr is a forward-thinking and passionate advocate for communities without access to resources to live a healthy life. She is the director of the Philly Food Rescue program with Uplift Solutions that coordinates last-mile transportation to engage a network of volunteers using the Philly Food Rescue App. Volunteers rescue surplus food that is picked up from food donors and re-routed to community partners.
The ideas behind Philly Food Rescue is quite simple: getting food surplus to people who can’t afford or don’t have access to nutritious food. By acting as a conduit between organizations with excess food and people in need, the program helps eliminate hunger and promote a healthy community.
According to statistics, the number of people in Philadelphia who can’t afford sufficient food increased by 22% over the past six years. Nearly three out of 10 food-insecure individuals in Philadelphia earn too much to qualify for federal nutrition assistance programs, while 20% of food-insecure children live in ineligible households.
Their volunteers rescue food surplus and distribute it directly to organizations that serve food-insecure individuals. Their main donors include retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, and universities.
Food surplus donations go to non-profit organizations serving households in need. These groups include faith-based institutions, housing authority, workforce programs, schools, soup kitchens, senior centers, and healthcare facilities.
The program has made it simple for volunteers to transport food from donors to recipient partners. Through the Philly Food Rescue mobile app, the system alerts volunteers about nearby pick-ups and allows direct communication between food recipients and Philly Food Rescue dispatchers.
“It’s a broken-down system where there are a lot of resources out there, but it’s just not getting to the area that it needs to get to, as fast as it needs to get to… One in every five people in Philadelphia goes hungry. And with that statistic alone, how can you not do something with that?
And then to learn that 2 out of 5 produced food items are wasted on a daily basis and the number keeps rising and rising… Even if people have access to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], that could only get them so far in terms of getting consistent, reliable food sources. It just requires the work of a lot of people, heavy lifting in Philadelphia. It definitely is a layered problem that we can simply solve by just getting involved in some way.”
[11:04] How to Minimize Food Waste at Home
“Cook enough for the people that you’re serving. Obviously, if you have too much, I would package and create meals out of it. Or if I just buy too much and see some stuff going bad a little faster, I would freeze some things. Because if you freeze it and just package it properly, it will still hold. And then also, I share… I’m like, ‘There’s somebody in the world across the street, across the way from us that can use this food and we won’t be able to eat it on time.’ So, obviously, sharing those resources and shopping well and shopping smart. And meal prep is the thing now, so meal prep or even repurpose those items to make something else.”
[13:00] Food Security Advocacy Rooting From Personal Experiences
“My backstory is that I grew up hungry, I grew up wondering when our next meal is gonna come.
Being in the system in Chicago after my mom passed away, I was just hopping from home to home and understanding what not having food feels like. I first learned about food deserts when I moved to Philadelphia. When I lived in a food desert, I got sick, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
I had to change my diet but there were no viable or healthy food options near me. I had to walk or catch a bus five miles away just to get to that food source. Now I get a chance to say, “Hey, you’ve been hungry. Let me point you to some of our sites that are open to the public.”
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