Operation food rescue: Edmonton volunteer group cuts waste and helps charities

The first ever Locale Festival was held Saturday at the Arts Barns in Edmonton. It was a one-stop shop for people trying to cut down on waste.

The festival featured a variety of environmentally conscious vendors offering sustainable products, including reusable water bottles and utensils, produce bags and second-hand clothes. 

Organizers Jennifer Bertrand and Anna Owusu were inspired by their own desire to live a greener life.

Bertrand, who runs a vintage shop because she’s concerned about the impacts of fast fashion, said they figured there were other people also looking for ways to create less waste.

“I think people are starting to go ‘okay, we need to get serious about this. This is not something we can be passive about. So, what can I do,'” Bertrand said. “They were looking for resources, and so that’s kind of what we’re doing here. We want people to come see some alternatives to their daily waste.”

Locale Festival event organizer, Jennifer Bertand, is hopeful they will be able to expand after their inaugural event Saturday at the Arts Barns. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

A constant flow of foot traffic passed through the festival doors on Saturday. Bertrand said they had to turn down a few vendors due to space limitations.

“We really want to grow this festival,” Bertrand said. “Maybe do it twice a year or maybe run some smaller events through out the year. It seems like people are excited about it, so we’d like to keep the momentum going.”

Operation food rescue

One of the vendors at the festival was the Leftovers Foundation.

The volunteer-based group rescues food destined for landfills and gets it into the hands of support organizations. Lead coordinator Morgan Allen says the group uses an app to organize more than 100 volunteers in Edmonton.

Leftovers Foundation lead coordinator Morgan Allen is hopeful events like the Locale Festival will help spread the word about their work and attract more volunteers. (Scott Neufled/CBC)

“They will work with food vendors to pick up their excess food at the end of the day,” Allen said. “They’ll redirect that food back to service agencies. Then those service agencies can use that food in their meal, snack or grocery programs.”

The program helps improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat according to Allen. It’s also a cost saver for the benefiting groups, who can use money that would go toward purchasing food in other areas.

“The majority of what we pick up is perishable items,” Allen said. “We’ve worked a lot with grocery stores and we will work with cafes and restaurants as well. But we’ve focused on grocery stores so far because it’s a really great way for us to access those fresh items.”

The group works with 17 different food vendors and 15 local groups to help distribute rescued food. Allen said there is also a waiting list of agencies that are hoping to work with them.

The Leftovers Foundation website says they redirect about 250 kilograms of food every week.

The foundation started in Calgary in 2013 and expanded to Edmonton in 2016. 

The group uses an app to coordinate all of their volunteer efforts, which eliminates the need for office space.

“They don’t have to go to any sort of training program or anything like that,” Allen said. “They just download the app on to their phone, sign up and create an account. Then through that, they can actually sign up for any of the routes they want to cover. There’s no minimum time commitment or anything like that.”

The group is always looking for more volunteers who may want to deliver food or help spread the word about their work. 

Allen is also encouraged by the turnout at the Locale Festival.

“I think there’s some really environmentally conscious and socially conscious groups that are here that are offering some really wonderful services.” Allen said.

The Leftovers Foundation app is available for Apple and Android devices. Volunteers can also sign up through their website.

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