When my friend Anna invited me to a film screening event hosted by Embark of the movie Just Eat It last year, I didn't realize the path it would put me on. Flash forward to today and I am seven months into a food recovery non-profit organization named Food Stash Foundation that has grown to have collected over 80,000 lbs of leftover food from thirty-six different stores and delivered it to twenty-six different charities throughout Vancouver with the help of 12 weekly volunteers. - David Schein, founder of Food Stash Foundation
Photo taken from On Purpose
David Schein, Food Stash Foundation: I was shocked that 50% of the waste in Canada is happening in the home.
After watching a locally-produced documentary film, David Schein woke up to the reality of day-to-day food waste: too much is going into the garbage. From supermarkets to local groceries to home kitchens, a huge quantity of the food we produce and buy is wasted. Stores don’t sell it fast enough, we buy too much, or we don’t eat it before it goes bad. David wanted to do something about it, so he started Food Stash Foundation, an organization that picks up food that would otherwise be wasted and finds homes for it at local charities that feed hungry people. He’s just starting out and learning the ups and downs of trying to do something good for the community. We talked to David about celery, the price of gas, and 900 pounds of tomatoes.
On the beginning: I watched the movie Just Eat It last year and it opened my eyes to the whole food system and how big a problem it is all along the chain. From farm to wholesale to supermarket to at home. I was shocked that 50% of the waste in Canada is happening in the home, buying too much or not finishing it.
On startup: I was a high school teacher so I had the summer off. Then in September I started Food Stash, instead of going back to work as a teacher. I’d just go on my bike and was biking around to lots of little produce stores, and supermarkets, and cafes, and bakeries, and asking if they wanted to donate any unsold food items. I was going to redistribute it to different charities. I went out and tried to find charities that were interested in receiving food and it has steadily grown from there. I never delivered food on my bike, in the beginning I was just getting out there scoping it out. Then once I got two or three stores within two weeks, I had a Toyota Camry so I was using the Camry. Which quickly became too small.
On funding: It’s not making any money right now. I do have a donation button on the website and we’ve received $2,000 in donations since September, so it’s pretty good. That’s covered pretty much all of the gas, which is the biggest expense. Pretty much the only expense. But going forward, if it’s going to be sustainable, then I do need to generate enough money to have a salary so I can continue. I mean obviously I can’t volunteer forever. Also I would like to get a kitchen space and then a cold storage space, because right now I’m delivering everything same day. I pick it up and deliver it within a few hours.
On preventing food waste at home: You’ve just got to get in the habit of checking in, you know look at the back of your fridge. Also the less you buy, or the more frequently you shop probably will lead to less waste, just because when your fridge is jam packed, you can’t see what’s in there. You forget about something, something gets squished in the back, whereas if you have more space you’ll see, “Oh yeah that celery is starting to go, let’s make a stir-fry or make soup or whatever.”
On putting yourself on the line: I’ve tried out some of the prepared foods, because the prepared foods have the most risk involved. With produce and dairy, you’ll see it visually or you can smell it with dairy. But prepared foods could go off without having a change in taste or smell. Like the sandwiches or the wraps, or the ready-made entrees. So I have experimented with those to see, a day after, it’s okay. Two days after, three days after, etc.
On barriers: Not all charities are equipped with big cold storage facilities with lots of kitchen staff who can prep all these things, so a lot of charities can’t take 100 pounds of produce. And who knows what you’re getting, it’s a wide variety. It takes a skilled chef and team to be able to take a mix-match of produce and turn it into a great meal.
I thought it would be easier. Some charities have experiences in the past of food getting dumped on them and it not being good quality, and maybe they only save fifteen or twenty percent and it just creates extra work for them. They end up having to throw most of it out, so they can be wary. It takes a little bit to build that relationship and trust and the charities tell me they’re using about 80% of the produce I give them, which I think is a high percentage.
On future plans: I’d like to start picking up from more farms, especially as we get into the summer. There’s so much out there and the quantities they have are pretty overwhelming. Like, in a month I’ve picked up 900 pounds of tomatoes, and 700 pounds of cucumbers. Having that cold storage would give me three or four days to donate it or I can make tomato sauce and reduce the volume; just having the space would give me more options, it would be a bit less stressful. I’d also like to start processing the food a little bit, to extend shelf life through dehydrating or freezing or canning. Making yogurt. Different things like that.
I just want to stay in Vancouver. There’s another group in New Westminster and Burnaby called ReFood, which is doing pretty much exactly the same thing. So I don’t feel the need to try to go all over the Lower Mainland, I just want to do as well as I can here. There’s so many supermarkets. I’m only picking up from three big supermarkets, and not every day either; imagine if you’re picking up from five supermarkets every single day.
On social media: I had never done Instagram before I started this in September so it’s all new to me. It’s the best because what we’re doing is visual so it’s cool for people to see the quality. I think people might get it in their heads that the food is bad, it’s not the best stuff. But when they see pictures of grass fed, organic milk, and grass fed organic yogurt, and Parmesan cheese, or even just the apples. You can see the quality of the apples, or the red peppers. This is good stuff.
Instagram has enabled me to connect with people who support what I’m doing and want to help out. I’ve asked for volunteers, once in the fall and then once a couple weeks ago, and I’ve gotten a lot of responses. Since January there’s been five volunteers helping me on a weekly basis, doing a pickup and a delivery.
On what he needs now: I’m looking for more sources of food, so if any of the readers work at a store or know of a store that might be interested in donating. I’m always looking for more volunteers. So people can email me about volunteering or if they work for a charity or know of a charity that would like to start receiving donations, they can contact me as well. Any little donations, little donations help. Even a couple of dollars. Yeah, gas is expensive.
You can volunteer with Food Stash Foundation, make a donation, donate food, or receive food if you work for a charity.