One of the most rewarding parts of Wyoming Hunger Initiative’s mission is the chance to visit amazing nonprofit organizations to learn about their service in the fight against food insecurity. Our recent opportunity to visit and learn more about Hole Food Rescue in Jackson, Wyoming was eye-opening, and we wanted to shine a light on the work they do because it’s so unique. Unless you realize the extent of the problem they're working to solve, you might not realize the impact Hole Food Rescue makes every single day in Wyoming.
“I saw all those chicken breasts in the dumpster and knew something had to change. So many resources, all for nothing.”
There was nothing deliberate about the origins of Hole Food Rescue. Founder Ali Milburn was feeling the pinch of the cost of living in Jackson in 2013 and decided to supplement her weekly food acquisition by dumpster diving. She could have survived without this “hobby,” but it became a challenge to discover all the edible food thrown out—a challenge that wasn’t all that difficult to meet. It was like a treasure hunt, and one that she soon began sharing with friends through progressive potlucks with rescued food. It was at these dinners where the discussion would turn to frustration over the sheer quantity of food waste in Jackson. After spotting a huge quantity of frozen chicken breasts in a dumpster, the aha! moment struck: maybe there was something that could be done about this problem, and Hole Food Rescue was born.
Since 2013, Hole Food Rescue has grown to epic proportions. What started in a garage is now in a facility that is yet again ready to burst at the seams. Ali’s vision for the organization began with a handful of friends who volunteered to pitch in; now there are five staff members, 70 weekly "full-time" volunteers, and a host of substitute volunteers. With the help of an app called Volunteer Scheduler Pro, this network of volunteers is able to rescue hundreds of pounds of food from grocery stores each day.
“We must have a presence and be advocates—all the time.”
Hole Food Rescue’s success is built on relationships. Relationships founded on clear communication with volunteers are crucial to the organization's continued success; HFR works hard to develop and sustain relationships with grocery stores and other community members who partner with the organization as well. Local stores are excited to become partners; corporate stores are increasingly willing to participate because of an expanding emphasis on corporate responsibility. But the most essential component of strong community relationships is the willingness to show up do the work—day after day, week after week, and year after year. For anyone interested in starting to rescue food in their own community, Ali recommends first establishing a relationship with a store’s produce manager.
Creative partnerships are also highly valued at Hole Food Rescue. When food is unfit to send out to recipient organizations, Hole Food Rescue sends the unsalvageable food to WyoFarm Composting/Haderlie Farms in Thayne, WY. This alternative method keeps food waste out of the landfill. Haderlie Farms has donated back to the organization, completing the circle!
In addition to day-to-day operations, last year Hole Food Rescue partnered with a local resource center, One22, to solve a problem that is increasingly happening throughout the summer months. Camp counselors noticed that many low-income children were showing up to a full day of summer camp with a single bags of chips or no lunch at all. This got the crew thinking that summer is likely a time of increased food insecurity for many children, so they decided to launch an experimental lunch program; 1,600 healthy lunches were served to local children. Based on this success, Hole Food Rescue will launch a new program in the summer of 2020 based on the work of The Hunger Coalition in Sun Valley, Idaho: a food truck that will distribute healthy lunch choices (emphasis on choice to preserve the dignity of children!) to those in need. It will also include a new partnership with the library to offer library services and art projects. During a time when “summer slide” is a known problem and nutrition is threatened, Hole Food Rescue is excited to do what it can to help alleviate this food insecurity.
In addition to the summer programs, Hole Food Rescue donates rescued food to more than 25 local organizations that are serving low-income community members. They also operate No-cost Grocery Programs in low-income neighborhoods and community centers in order to reduce food access barriers.
“You never know who will be reading and want to start something in their own community.”
Maybe you aren’t ready to launch your own food rescue. Not to worry! Hole Food Rescue has some tips to share for anyone wanting to do more to alleviate the problem of food waste.
1. Be conscientious about the amount of home food waste that occurs during a week.
Many of us have grand dreams of menu planning or adopting healthier food choices, but we’re often foiled by the sheer busy-ness of life or by last minute plans to eat outside the home. Understanding that food waste is hard on a family’s budget—$1500-2000 per year is no small change!—may help increase the discomfort of throwing food away that took a back seat for whatever reason.
2. Be conscientious about consumer habits.
When we purchase too much food, we tend to forget about all we have in our refrigerator. Being aware of over-purchasing each week and being more realistic about what food can actually be consumed by a family will help reduce the amount that gets pushed to the back of the fridge.
3. Think small—it still has an impact.
Developing a relationship with your own produce manager might turn into a small partnership with a local organization that helps provide food for the local population. Consider the hierarchy of how food is consumed: humans, livestock, compost, and landfill; do what you can to keep food waste out of the landfill whenever possible.
When we know better, we do better. Hole Food Rescue has saved over a million pounds of food in six years of operation, and that has a tremendous impact on both food insecurity and environmental waste and footprint within Teton County. We’re both awed and inspired by the work they do.
Visit Hole Food Rescue online at www.holefoodrescue.org. Learn more about Bloom, the unique community partnership in Sun Valley, Idaho that is inspiring HFR's upcoming summer project at https://thehungercoalition.org/healthy-food-access/food-for-kids/. Listen to eTown’s interview of Ali Milburn online at https://www.etown.org/echievement_award/ali-dunford-hole-food-rescue/.