How 412 Food Rescue Feeds Pittsburghers in Need

Jen England

In our role of serving injured workers, we’ve come across thousands of Pittsburghers in need, some of whom have struggled to feed their families after their injury. 412 Food Rescue, an East Liberty-based nonprofit, aims to feed these individuals and others by creating a long-term solution to food inequality—the unfortunate truth that certain people don’t have access to fresh, healthy food—on multiple levels.

Led by co-founder and Senior Program Director Jen England, 412 Food Rescue has developed seven programs:

  • Food Rescue: 412 Food Rescue’s primary focus, this complex network of restaurants, grocery stores, distributors, and volunteers delivers fresh produce to nonprofits across Pittsburgh. 
  • Food Rescue Hero: This app assists in food deliveries by matching food donations with nonprofit partners in need. It also alerts volunteers when new donations are ready for distribution.
  • Ugly CSA: A partnership with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance that prevents previously unsellable produce from going to waste by selling it at discount prices. Participants can sign up for a subscription service to receive a box of “ugly” food each month. 
  • Food Education: These cooking classes teach consumers how to prepare tasty meals while eliminating wasteful shopping and cooking practices. 
  • Hidden Harvest: Volunteers glean the region’s natural resources to feed the community. Each year, Hidden Harvest collects five tons of fruit growing in Pittsburgh’s public areas. 
  • Product Innovation: Connected with the Hidden Harvest program, 412 Food Rescue’s Product Innovation takes foraged resources and turns them into exciting new products. A perfect example: 412 Food Rescue worked with Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream to create Lemon Mulberry Reserve from mulberries collected from around the city. 
  • Good Food Project: One of 412 Food Rescue’s most exciting new initiatives, the Good Food Project works out of a kitchen in Millvale to produce nutritious meals from surplus donations. In time, the Good Food Project will create healthy frozen meals to sell in corner stores and neighborhood markets for 99 cents—offering a healthy alternative to fast-food dollar menus.

Through this holistic approach, 412 Food Rescue addresses the many problems inherent in donating food, especially the issue of storing fresh produce. “If you think about the traditional model we have for addressing hunger,” says England, “it’s based on trucking big pallets of non-perishables to a warehouse. From there, they’re trucked to a pantry, and then they sit there. People come maybe once a month to pick up their items and take them home. That timeframe doesn’t work with produce.” Through 412 Food Rescue’s distribution system, the organization is capable of providing each nonprofit with just the right amount of perishable food. For example, instead of delivering 10 crates of tomatoes to a food bank with one refrigerator, the food bank can order the exact quantity it can store, use, and distribute before the donation spoils.

None of this would be possible without 412 Food Rescue’s impressive team of dedicated volunteers. When 412 Food Rescue receives a notification that a new donation is available, it reaches out to its partner organizations and determines exactly what quantity each nonprofit needs. From there, dozens of volunteers will criss-cross through Pittsburgh, dropping off the requested quantity at each location. 

Over the years, the organization has kept detailed records of all of its deliveries, and it’s now using this data to help it make predictions as to which nonprofits are most in need and how much produce each organization is likely to require. In time, the Food Rescue Hero app will further streamline the donation and delivery process by allowing nonprofits to make detailed delivery requests from a mobile phone.

412 Food Rescue’s model has proven so successful, England now spends much of her time training similar organizations in major cities. “We’re currently working with Cleveland, Philadelphia, and San Francisco,” says England, “but we also have a long list of cities that are in interested in working with us, so we are going through the process of seeing which ones are really interested and have the capacity to scale both the technology and methodology.” She’s using the lessons 412 Food Rescue has learned over the years to help these nonprofits scale within their own communities by acquiring new technology, networking to develop relationships, and building their own volunteer pipeline.

The volunteers are the most important part, England says. With that in mind, she’s inviting you to consider applying through the organization’s volunteer page. With enough support, 412 Food Rescue can achieve its ultimate goal: eliminate food inequality in Pittsburgh—and beyond.

At Dugan & Associates, we care about the health, safety, and well-being of people within our community. If you’d like to learn more about our community engagement or our legal work, contact us

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