Following the annual New England Food Show in Boston on Tuesday, more than ten volunteers and employees from the nonprofit Food for Free loaded up a truck with more than 50 boxes full of unused food.
The bounty was trucked away to the organization’s Somerville warehouse, where it will be sorted for distribution to food pantries. Eventually, the food will end up on dinner tables across Greater Boston.
“This [food] would otherwise end up in a landfill,” said Ben Engle, Food for Free’s Chief Operation Officer. “This is very great opportunity to get high quality food that is not something you see very often ... and also giving the folks that are food insecure.”
The New England Food Show, held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, is the region’s largest trade event for the food service industry.
As vendors packed up their exhibits, Food for Free employees looked for leftover food that could be “rescued” from being thrown out.
They packed up two tables full of fresh produce, deli meat, and various high quality food, before moving onto multiple carts filled with bread.
“These are shows where it’s pretty normal for vendors to show up with samples and not have a plan of what to do with the [leftover] samples,” Engle said, noting the group has also scooped up leftovers from the New England Produce Show and the New England Seafood Expo. “So we’ll go and collect that and we’ll get it to people who are hungry.”
Engle said Food for Free doesn’t distribute the food to families and individuals directly and instead works with smaller food relief organizations that have more connections within their local community.
“Ninety-nine percent of the food that we move goes to smaller agencies and organizations that don’t have the transportation or logistics infrastructure that Food for Free does,” Engle said. “So it’s mostly us sourcing food from different sources and bringing it to smaller agencies that have distribution directly to the public.”
Megan Witter, a Food for Free volunteer , said smaller organizations tend to struggle with finding volunteers or companies to help transport food donated from food banks.
“Food for Free actually has helped the First Congregational Church food pantry with delivering extra food ... to our site,” Witter said, a former employee of the church’s food pantry. “So having their transportation and they didn’t charge us a transportation fee, which was really really nice.”
Food rescue efforts have highlighted the issue of unused food and food insecurity, catching the attention of Boston city councilors Gabriela Coletta and Ricardo Arroyo. Last month, the two proposed an ordinance that would require food vendors to donate leftover food to nonprofits instead of being wasted.
Arroyo said the proposal , which is scheduled for a hearing on April 28, aims to create a distribution pipeline among grocery stores, restaurants, and other vendors with food pantries and soup kitchens.
Engle said there is an overall need for more food rescue policies, considering how many federal assistance programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, have ended.
Before the Mass. Department of Transitional Assistance announced that the state would fund extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to individuals and families, Engle said he and other organizations had noticed a large uptick in lines of people waiting outside food pantries.
“Everyone kind of becomes aware of the fact that the end of SNAP is going to mean less food for food insecure,” Engle said. “We’re going to definitely see a lot more need.”