An Estimated 50 Million Americans Are Suffering From Food Insecurity Right Now—Here's How to Help

These apps let you help the hungry by simply using your phone.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives. Before COVID-19, nearly 37 million Americans suffered from food insecurity in 2019, according to Feeding America. (The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.) Unfortunately, that number is increasing due to the pandemic. The new data show more than 50 million could struggle with food insecurity, including 17 million children. And with the pandemic raging on, the number of people who are hungry is going to keep increasing.

Nonprofits are looking to apps to try to tackle these two issues by creating easy ways to get food that would otherwise go to waste for those who need it. You can become a "food rescuer" thanks to apps that connect you to local grocery stores, restaurants, and even other people who have leftover food to spare. In general, it works like this: If a bakery has 100 unsold bagels that would be thrown out at the closing time, they can add the bagels to a food rescue app. The app then creates an alert for an available driver (you) to pick up the bagels from the bakery and deliver them to a local food pantry. Sound like something you'd want to do? Here are three apps to try.

Food Rescue U.S.

You can apply to become a volunteer driver through Food Rescue U.S. to pick up excess food from restaurants and grocery stores and deliver it directly to local hunger relief organizations. Similar to Uber and Lyft (but out of the kindness of your heart, not for payment), you get an alert on your phone to make a pick-up and delivery using your car on your time. In this case, the cargo is food, not passengers. Food Rescue claims it typically takes only 30 minutes to pick up and deliver food. So if you've got a free hour in the evening or 30 minutes between appointments, you can use that time to feed people in need.

iphone in hand using olio app with fresh produce
Courtesy of Olio

Olio

The makers of the Olio app noticed a discouraging trend of people throwing away excess food (think fresh-from-your-garden tomatoes and cucumbers, bought-in-bulk produce you won't be able to eat before it's past its prime, or an excess of baked goods after holiday baking) rather than sharing with neighbors or coworkers. So they developed a neighbor-to-neighbor app to help you clear out extra food. It's sort of like Facebook Marketplace for food and household items, and we love this idea, especially when we're heading out of town and have food that'll spoil in our fridge if we don't do something with it. All you do is take a photo of the food you want to get rid of and wait for someone to say they want it. Then, designate a place to meet to hand off the goods. It's totally free to use. Although his app doesn't do as much to combat food insecurity, it definitely helps alleviate food waste. If you don't have anything to donate but still want to help, sign up to volunteer to pick up food surplus items to take to local pantries and shelters.

MealConnect

If you're a restaurant or catering business owner, you can use an app in the same way the car service apps work and join the fight to end hunger through Feeding America's MealConnect app. The free app service allows businesses to give away unused food from their kitchens to more than 8,600 nonprofit food relief groups without having to handle logistics. The restaurant simply lists on the app what unused food they have, and MealConnect determines which food banks need it most. Then MealConnect sends someone to pick up and deliver the food to the chosen food bank(s). Oh, and your food business will get a tax receipt as well. To date, more than 1.8 billion pounds of food have been redistributed to pantries instead of landfills.

Food Rescue Hero

As cities continue to join the mission to alleviate hunger, more local apps are popping up. Apps like Food Rescue Hero have built platforms for cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and San Francisco. By using apps like these, you can volunteer to pick up from grocery stores and restaurants near you to deliver and help the hungry in your city. The app covers six cities but has a goal to reach 100 by 2030. So far, they've been able to rescue 10 million pounds of food with their 10,000 registered drivers.

If you're dealing with food insecurity yourself, check out Feeding America's website for how to get assistance from a food bank. Check your local food shelters to see if they have an app or if there are ways you can get involved in making food rescues to prevent food waste.

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