Philadelphia Food Rescue Organization is developing a scalable food donation model – Food Tank

Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sharing Excess works to salvage and divert surplus food from landfills. With a permanent warehouse, a grocery delivery truck, and its first wholesale partnership, the organization wants to expand its model to cities across the country.

Sharing Excess began in 2018 when a group of college students from Drexel University came together to address food insecurity on campus and in the surrounding West Philadelphia community. “We’ve always believed that young people are catalysts for meaningful change,” Evan Ehlers, founder of Sharing Excess, told Food Tank. Over the past two years, Sharing Excess has grown into one of the largest food rescue operations in Philadelphia.

During the pandemic, Ehlers told Food Tank, “there wasn’t a single service that made sure 100 percent of food waste was collected.” While some businesses switched to curbside pickup or delivery, others had to close temporarily, creating a massive surplus of perishable foodstuffs. According to Feeding America, food insecurity rose 50 percent during the pandemic, and one in five Americans began turning to food banks, food stores and other food-aid programs.

Ehlers and his team responded by distributing surplus groceries from restaurants and retailers to the community. A Philadelphia investigators Article highlighted the work of Sharing Excess – and as a result, 100 new volunteers signed up to work with the organization in just one day. The team was inundated with calls from local business owners requesting their services. The aftermath of the article, Ehlers explains, was a “call to action” and allowed Sharing Excess to expand operations.

During the pandemic, Sharing Excess distributed 3.6 million kilograms of food — the equivalent of $15.5 million — and made sure it didn’t end up in landfill, where it would release harmful greenhouse gases. They bought their first warehouse and received a food donation van from Philabundance, a food bank and partner of Feeding America. They also worked with more than 200 food banks, community organizations and mutual aid efforts. Overall, Sharing Excess has grown by more than 400 percent.

Sharing Excess continued to expand its operations through a partnership with Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, one of the largest wholesalers in the United States. Since the start of its full-scale rescue operation in mid-2021, the organization has rescued and redistributed more than 2.2 million kilograms of food.

Through their ongoing partnership, Sharing Excess is able to reclaim edible food and bring it directly to communities. Your volunteers set up pop-up events where community members can choose what to take home. They also host free, educational potlucks to educate community members about food waste in their city and ways to get involved.

“We’re trying to destigmatize the act of distribution and provide more opportunities for cultural connections,” Ehlers told Food Tank. At food distribution points, Sharing Excess volunteers thank community members for being part of the food waste solution.

Ehlers explains that Sharing Excess is also developing technology to “make it easier for the general public to get involved in food rescue.”

They recently launched the Food Rescue App, an open source hub where community members can coordinate their own pickups and deliveries. The app tracks daily impact and provides step-by-step instructions for volunteers. “We wanted to improve the existing infrastructure of food banks, food companies and mutual aid organizations and take on the burden of the most tedious logistics,” Ehlers tells Food Tank.

Ryan McHenry, Director of Technology at Sharing Excess, developed the app with the help of 100 Drexel University interns. “The architecture we chose…provides a highly accessible yet powerful and scalable structure for our app to grow with and our student engineers to grow with,” writes McHenry.

Ehlers says the app is open source “so technical innovators can take it and work with it to modify the app to make it work best.” Currently, Sharing Excess works with ReFED and DoorDash: Project DASH, their teams help to develop and improve the app.

Ehlers tells Food Tank they hope to work with larger tech companies that can bring the app to the general public and build more wholesale rescue partnerships in cities like New York, Boston, Dallas, Salt Lake City and Denver. They also hope to set up so-called food rescue centers. These community-oriented facilities will serve as places for volunteers to interact with the community.

Before attempting to expand, Ehlers emphasizes the importance of developing a fully sustainable and scalable model in Philadelphia. “Our national expansion depends on us going deep in one area first. We want to develop a truly sustainable model before we branch out.”

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Photo courtesy of Sharing Excess

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