Updated: Dec. 6, 12:45 p.m.
The East End Food Co-op had 100 pounds of squash it couldn’t sell.
Paragon, a fresh food distributor based out of Warrendale, had 10 cases of yogurt, three cases of broccoli, one case of Brussels sprouts — and the same problem.
Ditto Pittsburgh’s Consumer Fresh Produce, with cases and cases of green beans up for grabs.
All three turned to 412 Food Rescue, which has been working as a matchmaker between companies and businesses with food they can’t use and nonprofits that can since March 2015. The group partners with 200 nonprofits and more than 175 retailers, according to co-founder Leah Lizarondo, and boasts more than 1,000 volunteers.
What was different for those three businesses this week was how they were connected to volunteers who could help get the food to nonprofits.
412 Food Rescue recently introduced an app that allows volunteers to digitally raise their hands and accept food rescue assignments. Anyone with a phone that has access to the iTunes App Store or Google Play can download Food Rescue Hero and, in just a few minutes, sign up to be a volunteer.
From there, users can check out available assignments. Thursday night’s offerings included picking up lettuce at Paragon and dropping it off at Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, a job training and food education nonprofit.
Even people who don’t have access to a car can use the app: 412 Food Rescue offers free one-hour rentals through Zipcar to members. (At the moment, you have to call 412 Food Rescue to take advantage of that benefit; the service should be rolled into the app by the end of the month.)
East End Food Co-op has been working with 412 Food Rescue since May 2015.
“You don’t ever want to throw food away,” said Kate Safin, marketing and members services manager, “but it’s challenging when you don’t have staff or labor or trucks or any of that kind of stuff to move the stuff that’s leftover.”
According to Lizarondo, the app was downloaded 300 times on Wednesday, the day it launched.
By next year, she said the app should have interfaces for donor businesses and for nonprofits. Users will also be able to check out environmental impact data.
Safin said East End Food Co-op contacts 412 Food Rescue at least twice a week — “until we have a sizable donation,” she added, “something that’s worth coming to pick up.” Now, she said, the app will help “to streamline [the process] even more.”
“Having a choice now,” Safin said, “it’s really incredible.”
This post has been updated to clarify that Lizarondo is a co-founder.