JFS SOVA Rescues Groceries to Help Feed Angelenos
Every year, Californians send 11.2 billion pounds of food to landfills, some of which is still edible and can be recovered to feed thousands of people in our state who don’t have enough to eat. This is especially important, considering that as of 2020, 9.2 million Californians (23% of California’s population) don’t know where their next meal will come from, according to this COVID Impact Survey.
In an effort to reduce food waste and address food insecurity, the California Senate introduced Bill 1383. This bill will ensure that consumable surplus food will instead go to food banks, soup kitchens, and other food recovery organizations to help feed Californians in need.
As one of the few food pantries in Los Angeles with access to refrigerated trucks, cold storage, and multiple places of distribution, the JFS SOVA Community Food & Resource Program has the ability to accept, process, and distribute these rescued foods on a larger scale.
The JFS SOVA pantries currently pick up groceries and pre-packaged food items from around 25 stores around Los Angeles, including Target, Gelson’s, Costco, and Whole Foods. LA Regional Food Bank’s Extra Helpings program provides its partners (JFS SOVA is a key partner) with a list of stores who have items for pick-up every Monday.
“We are currently partnered with LA Regional Food Bank, who partners with the grocery stores and other food generators,” said Tiffany Sgueglia, Director of the JFS SOVA Community Food & Resource Program “They are backed by Feeding America and keep everything very consistent. We have one system for entering and tracking, which has a mobile app (MealConnect) and makes it really easy for us and our grocery rescue volunteers.”
She continued, “Before we started the grocery rescue volunteer opportunity, these products would come directly from the store to the pantries. And because our drivers start picking up around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., they don’t get back until after food distribution has already started. Getting that food weighed, processed, and checked for quality control at the pantries was just too hard during the pantry hours.”
All that has changed thanks to our dedicated volunteers. Now SOVA truck drivers drop off products picked up that day at a cold storage warehouse in Van Nuys, just around the corner from the Van Nuys pantry. Grocery rescue volunteers help sort the products into different categories, such as baked goods, produce, and protein. Then the categories get weighed and input into the MealConnect app, so SOVA can track exactly how much they are receiving of each category.
“Previously, we weren’t weighing it and we weren’t categorizing. Now, with the help of volunteers, we are able do this because it is truly important to the trajectory of this program. This allows us to track what we are getting by store, which then allows us to create a feedback loop with them about our food needs,” said Tiffany. “Also, being able to bring it to one place where it can be sorted and divvied up also helps us distribute these products equitably to our clients across all our pantries and pop ups.”
Another benefit of this program is that clients enjoy receiving the products from these stores, as many are high-end, pre-packaged, and pre-made items that are not often available. The pre-made and pre-packaged meals are also an excellent option for distributing food to unhoused clients.
“Through these grocery rescue efforts, we are ensuring that that food gets safely distributed to clients who are coming to our food distribution programs. It provides them variety. It provides them foods that our pantries don’t normally get. And it provides a real system for closing the cycle of food waste as well,” said Tiffany.
According to Tiffany, this a true collaboration of leaders within the food recovery space in Los Angeles, as well as with municipalities. As this initiative is new, they are working together with stores to improve quality control and efficiency of pick up and transport.
To learn more about SOVA, please click here.
To become a grocery rescue volunteer, please email email@example.com