The Columbus chapter of Food Rescue US was established in 2012.
Since then, it has kept almost 14 million pounds of food out of landfills and provided more than 10 million meals throughout the city of Columbus and Central Ohio.
The focus of the organization is to “rescue” food from restaurants, markets and farms around the Columbus area that would otherwise be wasted. A small army of volunteers delivers the food to receiving agencies – usually food pantries such as the Worthington Resource Center and the Smoky Row Food Pantry – that help provide meals for people in need.
Co-Site Directors Susan Swinford and Emily Rials manage the operation in Central Ohio. They have dramatically expanded the program in the past two years.
“Susan took over in 2020 in part because of the pandemic,” said Rials. “There was so much panic and also so much opportunity.”
Since the two began managing the site, the number of receiving agencies has grown from 30 to 100, with almost 100 volunteers and 170 rescues a week.
Vendors from the Worthington Farmers Market have contributed to the Food Rescue program for many years, providing nearly 80 pounds of food to the Worthington Resource Pantry each week.
Mary McNamara and her husband, Russ Pollock, rescued nearly 150 pounds of fresh produce from vendors at the Worthington market July 30.
“I rescue because people are hungry, and those farmers and businesses who are willing to share need a way to connect their generosity to those in need,” McNamara said.
“We at Food Rescue are part of the connection. Additionally, saving rotting food from the landfills greatly helps our environment – the less food thrown away, the healthier our planet.”
“The farmers market is a really small glimpse of the pockets of food waste around the city,” said Rials. “Now it becomes, ‘How can we do this with other farmers markets?’ ”
In recent years the Upper Arlington, Clintonville, Bexley and Saint Mary’s Farmer’s Markets have also been added to the list.
Rials and Swinford will stop at nothing to save food from being wasted.
On a recent rescue, Rials was invited to a farm where the caller claimed to have a lot of extra ears of corn. What Rials did not know is that they meant it would take up every square inch of her car and then some.
But that did not stop her, and the sweet smell of sun-popped corn was only a bonus.
There is so much to consider when it comes to rescuing food; Where will the food best be put to use? Who is going to go pick it up? What time do stores and farmer’s markets close?
After this year’s Arnold Sports Festival at the Columbus Convention Center, there were lots of leftover protein packs for Rials to pick up. Those are great when it comes to pantries handing out portions to people, but thousands of ears of corn, not as easily divided.
But the work is all worth it in the long run, said Swinford, “This is something we do for people, and among people.”
For more information about the organization and to become a volunteer, visit the web site foodrescue.us/site/
–with reports from Cliff Wiltshire