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Foodsharing Ottawa. Photo provided.

Foodsharing Ottawa reduces local food waste by feeding the community

By Sonya Gankina on August 12, 2022

If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant or a grocery store, you know how much food is thrown out daily. In fact, if food waste was its own country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

With rising food costs, food insecurity, and many people in our community going without basic nutrition, there must be a better way. Foodsharing Ottawa works tirelessly to close this gap. This entirely volunteer-run organization works with local businesses and grocery stores to arrange pickups and drop-offs of extra food to charities and people in need. Foodsharing Ottawa takes care of all the logistics to make it easy for businesses to donate. We had the pleasure of speaking with Brandie Lekovic, the Chair of the Board of Directors, to learn more about the organization’s invaluable work.

Lekovic has been involved with the organization from the ground up, volunteering since the first pickup in 2015. Foodsharing Ottawa was founded by Caroline Ross, a recent graduate from Germany who came to Canada and couldn’t find any of the same solutions here as she had at home. In Germany, there was a community fridge accessible to all students, plus longstanding programs to reduce food waste.

Ross put together a website and started to chat with whoever would listen.

“When she would approach businesses, the logistics were complicated, and it was not necessarily a positive response—we had a very difficult start,” says Lekovic on a Zoom call. “One of our first pickups was Kardish. I pulled up to the store in Westboro, and the delivery truck was there. It was boxes and boxes of food; it broke the delivery guys’ hearts to throw out what was not sellable. Until that moment, I didn’t realize what and how much was thrown out—everything from jars of lemonade to cans of tomatoes and chips,” says Lekovic. “I thought: A) this was delicious; B) my family could use this; C) there is a real family in need somewhere out there.”

During the pandemic, the organization grew to three times its size and now has 60 dedicated volunteers rescuing more than 3,000 pounds of food per month from 16 different businesses. “Throughout COVID, we ended up with a lot more personal messages from people that didn’t have food. Unfortunately, we are not an emergency stop, so we created a “Share it, don’t toss it” page on Facebook to recover foods,” Lekovic says.

Foodsharing Ottawa. Photo provided.

Rescue drivers choose where to distribute the food. “We have suggested locations, but they can take it wherever they like,” explains Lekovic. “For example, The Ottawa Mission is a common drop-off since it is open 24/7.” Other food drop-off locations include Sadaqa Food Bank, Caldwell Family Centre, Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, Shepherds of Good Hope, and many more.

On the business side, Foodsharing Ottawa picks up excess food from Costco on Merivale, COBS Bread, McKeens Metro, Mamie Clafoutis, the Lord Elgin Hotel and more. While the current list features 16 local businesses and hotels, there is plenty of room for improvement based on the amount of food-based businesses in Ottawa. And that’s up to the community to organize, so Foodsharing Ottawa can come in and take care of the logistics.

“We are always looking for more volunteers and for people to get educated on food waste,” says Lekovic. “Once people have an awareness of what’s being thrown out, we suggest approaching the produce person or manager of the restaurant or grocery store and saying, ‘I’m just wondering what you do with what’s not sold at the end of the day? Because there’s a place called Foodsharing that can send volunteers and redistribute it and make your life easier.’ We come in as volunteers to take care of logistical pieces. It makes businesses see that the community cares.”

“We pick up anything that is suitable for human consumption,” explains Lekovic. “The reason a business is throwing out a bag of apples is because of one bad apple. We pick up the whole bag and clean it up and repurpose it. Each organization has specific requirements, so we coordinate as needed.” Because Lekovic specifically mentioned “human consumption,” I ask if Foodsharing Ottawa also works with other food needs.

“We do also donate to rescue animals and farms. For example, a pet store had a lot of bird food that couldn’t be sold, so we donated it to a bird sanctuary. We also do a lot of work composting what isn’t possible to redistribute. Or repurposing the food—we got bruised pears that couldn’t be gifted so we cut out the bad pieces, made pear ginger jam and shared that instead!” says Lekovic.

“Our goal is to reduce food from landfill, but our name is Foodsharing because we want it to be well-used and nourish our community. We won’t fully resolve food insecurity, but it helps in a bind or with a community organization.”

Learn more about Foodsharing Ottawa on their website, where you can sign up to volunteer or donate food.