Recycling has always been a mainstay of Corps activities. Thanks to a new initiative from longtime-funder CalRecycle, this year we expanded from recycling CRV containers, e-waste, tires and mattresses to the innovative idea of recovering and recycling food waste.
Heading up this unique community mobilization project in the San Fernando Valley is a small team of Corpsmembers that recovers up to 3,100 pounds of food waste every day. They’ve collected over 376,000 pounds since beginning the program last year—a heroic effort in a county that is home to the largest food insecure population in the United States.
Every morning, the crew visits local supermarkets, school cafeterias, restaurants and convenience stores to collect food items that cannot be sold but are still safe and healthy. Contributors have included Costco, Albertsons, Pizza Hut, 7-Eleven, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Coca Cola and Sunland Produce. Corpsmembers deliver all the recovered edible food to our Pacoima food bank partner, MEND (Meeting Every Need with Dignity).
After visiting MEND, Corpsmembers take remaining inedible food waste to local schools to compost in community gardens. Nothing goes to a landfill.
Corpsmembers see the direct impact they are having with every afternoon delivery to the food bank. Since beginning the program, the food bank has been able to increase their service by 10,000 people every month.
Corpsmember Juan, who drives the food rescue truck, expresses, “It makes me feel good that I’m actually helping out. I didn’t know anything about landfills until I started working here. The Corps has taught me a lot. This food was considered waste, but now other people are able to enjoy it. Something we take for granted, a lot of other people now enjoy.”
Corpsmember Alex shares, “This is my first real job. It’s interesting to see how people react. You wouldn’t expect people to be super joyous when we hand them just one little basket that’s for them. Now I know there are more options than just getting rid of whatever food is not being sold by a certain date. Instead of putting it to a dumpster, we can give food to people who actually need it.”
Juan, Alex and their crew are each developing new professional skills that will make them ideal candidates for positions in supply chain management, food sustainability and food waste reduction. They’ve built experience in food safety, received job skills training, developed customer service abilities, coordinated logistics, collected data, navigated pickup and delivery routes, had hands-on experience with equipment and trucks and learned about waste reduction, composting and food insecurity.
The program has also been helped by support from funders and partners SoCal Gas and Kroger. We are excited about the future growth and development of this program. With Corpsmembers at the helm, it is providing a solution that crosses boundaries and brings local businesses and nonprofits together in a cooperative approach. The potential for this program to thrive—its ability to successfully impact people AND the planet—is unlimited!