(Photo via twitter.com/foodconnectgrp)
What started as a simple question asking why so much food in Philadelphia goes to waste when so many need it became an operation that is now rescuing over 12,000 meals every month and growing.
In its infancy, Food Connect’s founder and executive director, Megha Kulshreshtha, was driving donations around on weekends and evenings after work. In 2015, the nonprofit was able to get a few volunteers together at a time to rescue a couple hundred meals per month.
Food Connect is now a full-time job for the former equity portfolio analyst, and she has been able to hire three full-time employees, two part-timers and 10 regular volunteers.
“I am excited to continue to build on our progress,” Kulshreshtha said. “There is still a lot of work left to do in this space and I invite everyone to work together so we can get more done. We have the technology, the systems, and the model to make real time collaboration in food rescue possible.”
The mission of Food Connect is simple: to bridge the gap between surplus food and hunger. The org does this by leveraging technology, optimizing resources and reducing barriers to donations.
Restaurants and food vendors can schedule a pickup right from their phone using the Food Connect app and Kulshreshtha’s team works with other food rescue organizations, drivers and volunteers to match and deliver the food.
“As I continued to build out the process and get more requests, it was clear we needed to launch our app to keep up with the demand,” Kulshreshtha said. “In 2016, we launched the Food Connect app and we were rescuing about 2,000 meals every month. It was a bit scary because there was no money to fund the operation and pay for driving costs.”
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— Food Connect Group (@foodconnectgrp) May 16, 2018
But Kulshreshtha found early success with the app, and partnerships have proven essential for the fledgling nonprofit: Food Connect partnered with the Democratic National Convention back in 2016 and with the NFL when the NFL draft took place in Philly in 2017.
It also received early grants from the Share Food Program and the Pierce Foundation. At the time, Kulshreshtha was using her savings to fund everything.
“The past two years, we’ve focused a lot on building our delivery capabilities and working with organizations who want to be able to donate food in real time. This past summer, we officially launched a pilot program with Philabundance to help bring real donation time delivery services to their network,” Kulshreshtha said. “I’ve always believed that we get more done when we are working together as a community and that’s exactly what we have been doing with Philabundance.”
Philabundance saw a partnership working with Food Connect as a great opportunity to support and collaborate with a local organization with similar goals, said Cheyenne Pritchard, associate of sustainability at Philabundance.
“Our Philabundance fleet typically picks up donations at the 500-pound and over level, and we wanted to dedicate more resources to capture smaller donations, including prepared and prepackaged product to help save more good food from the landfill and provide it to those in need,” Pritchard said.
“As the food industry continues to change, and as hunger increases in our area, we want to focus on rescuing more of this food. Food Connect is great at handling these types of donations and provides the final leg of the rescue process: managing and executing the pickup and delivery, allowing us to better serve both our food donors and agencies,” she said.
Further support from organizations such as the Barra Foundation — $191,050 over 24 months, starting March 2018 — and Claneil Foundation helped Food Connect invest in its infrastructure and build a team.
“Initially, I was afraid to hire anyone because I wouldn’t be able to take on those costs on my own,” Kulshreshtha said. “Now, with more support, we have been able to make the necessary shifts. We have a team, we are upgrading our technology and development process, we are investing a lot of time and energy into making our operation extremely thoughtful and impactful.”
The Barra grant allowed Food Connect to hire a dispatch coordinator in order to make deliveries more efficient, work on marketing and design, and bring in consultants to help map out organizational goals and sustainable practices.
This year, Food Connect will be focusing on upgrading some of its integration capabilities, redesigning their user interface on the app so users can track deliveries more closely, and building partnerships to better support existing efforts.
“This year we will also be able to update the user interface so it’s a bit more intuitive and redesign the look and feel of our website so that there is a succinct message and feel. We do a lot of great work and we want to take time this year to tell that story,” Kulshreshtha said.
“Sometimes I get so lost in improving the day to day, that I forget to share and celebrate all of the donations we are able to help with,” she said. “That’s the irony of the nonprofit space; these are challenging gaps we are trying to solve and while we are pushing the boundaries and raising the standard, it’s easy to feel discouraged because there are still so people who go hungry and lot of food that still goes to waste.”
It may be cold outside ❄️ but we are just warming up over here! 🔥Full 2 days of process mapping, increasing operational efficiencies, making an impact, and enjoying the journey ❤️ 🙌🏽@foodconnectgroup #techforgood #love #motivation #womenintech #endhunger #phillylove pic.twitter.com/z0kzxoKKrH
— Megha Kulshreshtha (@mkulsh01) February 1, 2019
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