12 Dec Moving meals to the masses
If you peeked through the window of Loaves & Fishes Food Bank, you could easily assume you were looking into the premises of a professional food distributor. “We want to be like Sysco – only free!” explains Joel Hampson, the food bank’s Agency Manager.
Located in the heart of BC’s port city of Nanaimo, Loaves & Fishes Food Bank has been distributing food donations to residents of the city and its surrounding areas since it opened its doors in the mid-nineties. Since then its operations have grown exponentially, firmly establishing itself as the food sharing system distribution hub for all of Vancouver Island. It supplies food to over 100 agencies across the Island, making deliveries to locations as far afield as Port Hardy, nearly 400 km away.
The leap in its growth began in 2012 when Loaves & Fishes Food Bank launched its Food 4U Food Recovery Program. It started partnering with local grocery stores to collect every crumb of food the stores could no longer sell, either because it was close-dated or had aesthetic imperfections, seven days a week. In doing so, it was providing the grocery stores with a cost-effective, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly way of disposing of their unsold food, while securing the food bank with an abundant supply of surplus fruit, vegetables, meats, bread, and dairy, that was historically being thrown away. Loaves & Fishes Food Bank’s intake of food donations ballooned by 712% in 10 years as a result of this program.
Of the 20,000 – 30,000 KG of food that Loaves & Fishes Food Bank now rescues from local retailers every week, it shares around 50-70% of what is still edible with individual “shoppers” coming to their warehouse in need of food donations. What’s left is distributed to agencies around the Island. Food that is no longer edible is shared with farmers for their animals or sent to a local compost facility.
With the rising cost of living, demand for food donations continues to rise and Loaves & Fishes Food Bank is laser-focused in its ambition to expand its services to people and communities throughout Vancouver Island. But in order to support this growth, the food bank needed to find a technology platform that would make the process of sharing food with agencies as quick and efficient as possible. It turned to FoodMesh’s Marketplace for help.
The B2B Surplus Marketplace was launched in 2016, with the goal of helping connect food businesses with unsold food and quickly find new channels to sell or donate their products.
“While the platform wasn’t originally designed as an order management/redistribution tool for charity food hubs, we are really excited to see Loaves & Fishes Food Bank refactor it to help bring operational efficiencies when sharing their rescued food with their network,” explains Jessica Regan, FoodMesh CEO and Co-Founder.
For the last year, 38 agencies across the Island have been using the Marketplace to browse a range of products that Loaves & Fishes Food Bank has rescued, and order what they need for their own clients. They either pick the items up when visiting the warehouse or arrange for a Loaves & Fishes Food Bank driver to deliver them. “We love it because the Marketplace enables us to move more food, more efficiently, to a lot more organizations,” Joel explains.
But in using the Marketplace in this way, Loaves & Fishes Food Bank uncovered a few areas that the system was falling short. “It’s like when you’re driving a car, and you start revving it to its highest RPMs, and you realize where the cracks are. That’s what happened when we started using the Marketplace in this way,” explains Joel. “We were really impressed by the overall design of the system, but we uncovered a number of glitches that started to get in the way of our ability to be efficient,” says Joel. “So we asked FoodMesh if they would consider fixing them.”
As anyone with experience working with technology knows, upgrades – even the simplest ones – come at an enormous cost. “Even though this Loaves & Fishes Food Bank’s application of the Marketplace fell outside of the platform’s original mandate, we knew we wanted to continue to support their amazing work. We just needed to figure out how,” says Jessica.
FoodMesh drew on the support it received from the Digital Supercluster and has made a number of upgrades to the system to make it easier for Loaves & Fishes Food Bank to share their rescued food with a bigger network. “We have a number of charities and nonprofits on our waiting list, eagerly wanting to start ordering their food donations online,” says Joel. “Hopefully now we will be able to supply enough food for all of these organizations to thrive.”
Written by Megan Czerpak, Head of Communications at FoodMesh