When Safer at House dictates went into effect in March, many people found themselves food insecure for the very first time — visiting places such as Westside Food Bank at Santa Monica for assistance.
“Even before COVID hit, food insecurity across the nation and specifically in Los Angeles was at an all-time high,” stated Deputy Director Genevieve Riutort. “Then COVID hit and all of a sudden tens of thousands of additional families needed help and food banks were really challenged. How do we double our service overnight?”
The meals bank shortly received assistance from a group of school students, two of whom had spent time living there as kids.
“They just thought, we gotta do something, and somehow, I don’t really know how they did it, but they got a truck, they connected with a farmer and the next thing you know, they’re showing up at our warehouse unloading pallets of eggs,” she clarified.
That school student was Aidan Riley, that attends Brown University. He had been helped by James Kanoff, who belongs to Stanford.
Together, the set of Southern California natives helped produce a new job named Farmlink, which is composed of a group of volunteers utilizing technologies to streamline food shipping from farms to food banks, which in turn, feed households.
Everything began then first egg shipping.
“We called about two 200 farms and got hung up on, but it was on that 201st call that we found a farm that had eggs essentially,” Riley recalls. “He said, yeah, I have all these eggs, I have nowhere to put them and I don’t have a truck.”
Thus Riley rented a moving truck, picked up the eggs delivered them into the meals bank.
“We were really impressed because the logistics of rescuing food, which is essentially what they’re doing, it’s a food rescue project, can be really complicated,” Riutort stated.
“Then we realized, this is a repeatable process. Even if we’re still just renting trucks and moving food, we can have high, high impact,” Riley said.
Farmlink started focusing on farms that had too much food and nobody to market to, following the pandemic compelled the disturbance of critical supply lines.
“We all saw those headlines, millions of gallons dumped in the ground, apples, potatoes, onions buried,” Riley stated. “Suddenly we had people saying, ‘I have a truck and I want to help you move food, I have a pickup truck, I have a vegetable garden, how can I get you guys this food? Sorry I can’t help in either of those ways, but take $50 and make sure it gets to someone in need.’”
Before they know it, the founders of Farmlink were procuring and bringing hundreds of thousands of pounds meals weekly, with the support of contributions and a growing group of volunteers.
Since March, the company has delivered almost 9 million pounds of food to food banks in 38 nations.
“It just seemed so dystopian. How can you have millions of people flooding a charitable food system that isn’t designed for a crisis, and at the same time, have millions of pounds of food going to waste,” Kanoff wondered. “We can use this same system to feed people long after the pandemic, and that’s the piece that’s been most surprising to all of us.”
The Westside Food Bank and many others around Southern California have welcomed the aid.
“It was just a bunch of students who saw a problem and decided that they could respond,” Riutort said. “An innovative way to make a connection between farmers who had food that would otherwise go to waste and food banks that were serving people in need.”
Farmlink is always accepting contributions and help however they could get it, and has absorbed the lives of its creators, that a number of them are going to be taking the fall term off to concentrate on the job, which has been help food banks feed households daily.
“We grow enough food to feed every person on this planet, and yet every year, a third of that goes to waste and millions of people go hungry and that doesn’t make any sense,” Kanoff said. “The more people that can pitch in and kind of join in this movement to end that absurdity, the better.”