U.S. food waste is out of control. The United States throws out $165 billion dollars worth of food annually, while one in seven people go hungry.
NYC resident Robert Lee saw a connection between food that restaurants throw away every night and hungry people on the streets. When he graduated college in 2013, he started Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a nonprofit organization that helps restaurants donate their leftover food to NYC homeless shelters.
All photos: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine
While attending NYU as a student, he was part of an organization that donated leftover food from the dining hall to local homeless shelters. After he graduated, Lee and fellow NYU alum Louisa Chen co-founded RLC.
Since that time, they’ve brought over 100,000 pounds of food to homeless shelters and food kitchens across NYC. Lee was balancing his nonprofit work with a finance job at J.P. Morgan, but gave up the job last year to work on RLC full-time because it has been so successful.
Lee says the Rescuing Leftover Cuisine website makes it easy for volunteers to sign up. Volunteers can choose their own commitments, and each shift is only 30 minutes, so the commitment isn’t daunting. Currently, RLC is working on an app for volunteers that Lee says he hopes “will be like Uber for delivering leftover food to the homeless.”
What About Restaurant Liability?
Lee explained to CNN why it’s a non-issue:
When we first started out, we got about five [restaurant] partners for every 100 people that we reached out to. A lot of the restaurants have never even heard of the concept of food rescue. And they thought they would be legally held liable for the food that they were donating. So I’d have to explain to them the legislation (that) basically covers and protects all food donors from legal liability, except in the case of gross negligence.
But after we had more partners, we were able to basically point across the street and be like, ‘Hey, we work with them. This is how it works. We make it very easy for you to do this.’
Food Rescue Helps Reduce Food Waste In Other Ways, Too
Every month, RLC supplies restaurants with reports that show how much food (by weight) is being donated every day. They weigh the day’s donations once they arrive at the shelters where they’re dropping it off. Lee explained to CNN,
So the quality went up and the food waste went down. Now we only pick up from that restaurant twice a week, and there’s very little food, if any at all, to be picked up. That’s kind of the best-case scenario. As we tell our partners and restaurants how much excess they have, ideally they would reduce it to the most minimalist level.
If you’re in NYC and want to get involved as a volunteer or restaurateur, you can contact Rescuing Leftover Cuisine here.