Food Matchmakers

Jackie DeCarlo, executive director of Manna Food Center

About 70,000 people living in Montgomery County don’t have sufficient food. Yet, every year about 23 percent of the county’s solid waste (or 146,000 tons) is food waste. To better match those with excess food to those in need, the Manna Food Center Community Food Rescue was launched in March 2014. The idea was to create a network to better coordinate food recovery in the area and to expand awareness.

Montgomery County is known more for its affluence than poverty, but pockets of food insecurity are real. “Most people are surprised [by the extent of hunger] and don’t want things to go to waste,” says Jackie DeCarlo, executive director of Gaithersburg-based Manna, which has been fighting hunger in the county for more than 30 years. “There is a real desire to improve and to take our resources and to use them in the right ways.”

The rescue program has connected 28 local food assistance organizations, including the Rainbow Community Development Center and Shepherd’s Table, with 100 food donor businesses, while coordinating 46 volunteers to transport the food. As of this fall, agencies serving people who experience hunger in Montgomery County have received nearly 2.8 million pounds of food valued at almost $5 million and served nearly 400,000 people through Manna’s Community Food Rescue, says Cheryl Kollin, the program’s director.

Using software called Chow Match, businesses that want to donate can post available food. Once a suitable recipient is identified, a volunteer driver arranges for pickup and delivery.

When Amanda Cather has excess tomatoes or zucchini at her Plow and Stars organic farm in Poolesville, she requests a pickup, rather than composting the items or feeding them to the pigs. “It’s really amazing to have this easy outlet,” says Cather, who has donated as many as 250 pounds of vegetables at a time.
In addition to deliveries, the Community Food Rescue awards mini-grants to agencies so they can buy freezers or vehicles to better manage the donated food, and provides food safety training on how to handle rescued food.

“We know no one agency is going to end hunger,” DeCarlo says. “We have a responsibility to coordinate, connect and collaborate to advance our mission.”