Marjorie Londono opened the trunk of her car full of boxes of fresh fruit and food so a Greenwich Jewish Family Services worker could load it onto a hand truck Monday night.
Londono is something of an intermediary. She brings food no longer needed by retailers to food banks and soup kitchens. But she is not a saleswoman.
“It’s always been about helping, not making money,” Londono said.
Londono volunteers with Food Rescue US, a nonprofit organization that takes unused, excess food from retailers, grocers and farmers markets. The group then delivers the food to nonprofit social service organizations throughout Fairfield County.
But the nonprofit faces many of the same challenges that food pantries face, such as securing funding and food supplies.
Haley Shulman, co-director of Food Rescue US’ Fairfield County site, said the group is trying to attract more donors as it brings together people from different walks of life and builds community.
Londono picked up the food at Trader Joe’s in Stamford. One source Shulman has in mind is Bridgeport retailers and donors.
“In 2024, we have a goal of increasing the number of donors in Bridgeport … we (are) really trying to focus our efforts on finding lifesavers in the city,” Shulman said.
One of the reasons Bridgeport doesn’t have as many potential donors is the lack of grocers offering fresh food in an area known as a food desert. It also makes it harder for groups like Food Rescue US to source food from the same communities it serves.
Numerous donors are listed from wealthy suburbs like Westport, but not as many donors come from cities like Bridgeport. Shulman said the group also works with a charter school and hospitals in the area.
Getting more donors not only expands the supply of excess supplies, but also gives groups like Food Rescue US more opportunities to access culturally diverse food, according to Paul Shipman, senior director of network resources at Connecticut Foodshare.
Shipman said certain cultural, ethnic and religious groups may have different dietary restrictions.
“We look for things that people tell us they prefer … and you have people who don’t eat meat for religious, cultural dietary reasons,” Shipman said.
But while Food Rescue US is looking for more donors, it already has a strong network of volunteers working on an app that connects them with retailers and drop-off locations.
According to Shulman, 3,600 volunteers are already registered with the app. Pickups are available daily.
Shulman said the food is of high quality, but it’s getting close to its sell-by date, especially for prepackaged food, which she cautioned doesn’t mean an expiration date.
Yet while retailers are protected by law from any liability from donated food, some retailers still mistakenly believe they can be held responsible for any illness resulting from donated food.
Volunteers like Londono spoke of their satisfaction in seeing food that would otherwise be thrown away be used to feed people in need.
A social services agency worker hauled the food onto a hand truck as Londono watched. She is in good company; Fairfield has the most volunteers at 424, with Westport second with 422 and Stamford third with 420, according to Shulman.
That’s what makes Food Rescue US different from other organizations focused on food access, according to Meg Hadley, food security coordinator for the United Way of Coastal and Western Connecticut.
“Sometimes it’s sad how much food goes to waste when there are people who could use it,” Hadley said. “And it’s great to have an organization like Food Rescue in our area to help bridge that gap and get that food where it needs to go.”
Funding can also be a challenge for Food Rescue US, Shulman said. According to his latest financial statement from 2021, he had a balance of funds close to $1 million. It receives part of its budget from subsidies. But she said it wasn’t enough.
So he’s banking on his annual fundraiser as well as an upcoming concert.
“We’re in an interesting position where we’ve expanded our programs so much and accomplished so much that the current funding that we have just doesn’t allow for it,” Shulman said, “It doesn’t match up.”
Funding issues at nonprofits that deal with food insecurity are quite common, according to Hadley.
“Finding funding is often difficult, especially when there are so many organizations operating in the same space,” Hadley said. “There’s competition for grants because there’s not necessarily a lot of them.”
Food Rescue US does have its challenges, but it has also brought together many people whose paths would never have crossed or simply reconnected, according to Shulman. Volunteers who start eventually learn about local food insecurity.
But it’s not necessarily a gloomy affair. Many people end up forming lasting and true friendships with each other.
Shulman can speak from experience riding with her grandmother on charity runs when she was still a volunteer.
“It was an opportunity for us to be together and hang out in the car and chat in a way that we hadn’t been able to do before,” Shulman said.