In the U.S. alone, about 40 percent of all edible food goes to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a figure made even more troubling when considering the 50 million Americans currently classified as food insecure.
Areas with higher-than-average poverty levels are especially hard-hit by food insecurity woes. In the Phoenix metro area, where poverty rates nearly double the national average, more than 27 percent of households with children experience food hardship. That shocking stat translates to one in four Phoenix-area children going to bed hungry every night.
But Waste Not, a food rescue organization serving Phoenix and surrounding suburbs, is out to change all that with an innovative approach to bringing wholesome meals to the people who need it most.
Unlike many food rescue programs, Waste Not doesn't store or warehouse food. Instead, the organization uses a small fleet of refrigerated trucks to pick up unwanted food from Phoenix businesses and transfer it to hungry residents on the same day.
"Our trucks start out empty and they wind up empty," Dee Mitten, executive director of the organization, told Earth911. "It's a very simple concept. We take excess food from people who don't need or want it and give it to those that do. But I will assure you that behind the scenes it is a very complex operation."
Earth911 tagged along with one of Waste Not's top drivers while on the road to get an up-close look at how the organization works and find out what can happen when we stop wholesome food from heading to the landfill and put it where it belongs – on the plates of hungry people.
Small team, big impact
With only five trucks and five drivers, Waste Not transfers more than 6,000 pounds of food per day to organizations that feed the hungry, adding up to a staggering 2 million pounds of food each year.
When Earth911 caught up with Waste Not's senior driver, Gus Castro, at a Yard House restaurant in north Phoenix, he had already been on the road for hours - picking up excess food from restaurants, grocery stores and other locations before they open their doors for the day.
Like all of Waste Not's drivers, Castro handles his route alone – filling bins, crates and dollies with food and packing them into his truck under the hot Arizona sun. He greets us with a wide, friendly smile - despite the glimmer of sweat forming on his brow from arranging heavy boxes like a round of Tetris in the back of his truck.
"It changes from day to day," Castro said of his pick-ups. "I stop by [each donor] one or two times a week, and they give me whatever extra food is available."
Typical loads are about 1,500 pounds per driver. But when we visited, Castro was having a good day, loading more than 2,000 pounds of perishable food into his trailer by late morning.
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