One-third of the food we produce is trashed while 1 in 8 people go hungry. If you’re anything like me, you’re appalled by these numbers that are not a singular case, but reflecting the global reality. Good news, though: someone came up with a great idea!
Re-Food Portugal takes care of two problems by providing one solution: reduce food waste while feeding as many people as possible. Re-food is a citizen-driven, 100% volunteer, independent, eco-humanitarian charity, working at a micro-level to eliminate food waste and hunger at the national level.
People are at the heart of the work Re-Food carries. Volunteers work two hours per week, creating value for people struggling with food insecurity in local communities. The most vulnerable members of the community have priority: children, elderly, disabled. That being said, anyone who needs food is welcome to receive Re-food’s support.
We started volunteering at the beginning of August. On the first day, we were there, as I was redistributing the food, an old entered and she sat down in a corner. Then she gave me a cheeky look and smiled with all her teeth, waving and sending me kisses. This moment has forever marked me; her gratitude and joy, the lack of shame, her mere happy presence.
How it works
Re-Food has partnerships with cafés, restaurants, supermarkets, etc. that freely donate Re-Food the food they did not sell. Re-Food volunteers pick-up the food starting with 4 PM in Lisbon, distribute (share and repackage it from 6 to 8 PM), and deliver it to those who need it starting 7 – 8 PM.
What is interesting to note is that the operational space and the refrigerators and donated and the unavoidable operating costs are very low, averaging about $300 per month. Thousands of meals rescued and delivered each month by every center in Lisbon are produced for less than 10 cents each. So, economic sustainability derives from the model’s efficacy and the goodwill of the community.
What has been the evolution
In early 2011, one volunteer on a bicycle visited 30 restaurants a day, rescuing enough food to feed around 50 people in need, 5 days a week. In less than 30 days, that volunteer was joined by 30 others. They were 100 by the end of the year and were saving and serving many more meals and people.
Now, after 5 years, there are 33 Re-Food centers in Portugal. 4,900 volunteers are currently rescuing 100,000 meals a month from more than 900 food source partners (restaurants, supermarkets, and farmers) and serving 2,500 people, 5 days a week.
Needless to say, the Re-Food model allows us to maximize food collection while minimizing our ecological footprint since much of the collection work is performed by teams walking and riding bicycles.
Re-Food volunteers are driven by different choices. When asked why she dedicated time to this project, Pilar, the manager of Re-Food in Santa Maria Major district says “Because it’s the right thing to do.” To me, the ReFood initiative makes a lot of sense. If you’re interested in carrying out such an initiative in your city, contact Re-Food and make it happen. Also, if you’re in Lisbon, volunteer! We’d love to have you onboard!