Veggie Rescue Improves Nutrition and Quality of Life for Those Struggling with Food Insecurity | Good for Santa Barbara

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Posted on November 25, 2021
| 4:00 p.m.

As we get ready celebrate the holidays with our families and friends this holiday season let’s also take some time to think about giving back to our communty. Join Noozhawk this #GivingTuesday and make a donation to a local nonprofit.

Noozhawk is teaming up with local nonprofits to encourage you to take part in the international day of giving, which takes place on November 30th, 2021.

It is no secret that this past year and a half has been full of challenges. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local nonprofits need your support now more than ever.

Our Good for Santa Barbara Nonprofit Section provides all the resources you need to donate this holiday season, including a full Giving Guide with a list of local nonprofits who need your help this Giving Tuesday. 

In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Diana O’Connell, Executive Director at Veggie Rescue, to learn more about how the nonprofit is dedicated to improving the nutrition and quality of life for community members who are struggling with food insecurity by providing them with healthy, local produce and high quality prepared food.

Veggie Rescue

Question: What is the name & mission of your nonprofit?

Answer: The mission of Veggie Rescue is to improve the nutrition and quality of life for community members who are struggling with food insecurity by providing them with healthy, local produce and high-quality prepared food, and to work with farmers and local businesses to reduce food waste.

To carry out our mission, Veggie Rescue partners with 50+ farms and businesses in SB County to rescue fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste.

We then deliver that food to 65+ food pantries, shelters, senior centers, and home delivery and youth programs who are feeding community members in need, from Santa Maria to Carpinteria. We address food insecurity, reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and provide nutrient dense produce to those in our county who might otherwise not have access.

Q: How is your nonprofit primarily funded and what are your greatest needs?

A: All that Veggie Rescue does to nourish our community is free of charge, being on call seven days a week providing farmers the transportation to make the most of produce that would otherwise not be sold, and delivering food to nonprofits doing charitable feeding throughout Santa Barbara County.

We rely on contributions and grants to support 100% of our operations. Our biggest expense, and greatest need, is to keep our small fleet of two refrigerated trucks and a refrigerated van, rolling, and to pay our three part-time drivers to keep making it all happen.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your nonprofit?

A: Operating as a nonprofit since 2011, Veggie Rescue started as an all-volunteer gleaning program, with volunteers harvesting on small farms, orchards and backyards, and donating up to 50,000 pounds of gleaned produce per year to a few nonprofits in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara.

Though we still have volunteers gleaning, over the years we transitioned to having a small team of paid drivers picking up harvested food from small farms, farmers markets and businesses and delivering produce and high-quality prepared foods to a growing number of nonprofits throughout SB County.

Then, in 2020, with the increase in the amount of food waste in the restaurant supply chain, with a growing number of our county residents in need of support, Veggie Rescue diversified our food rescue program beyond our traditional farmer partnerships. These changes included partnering with a national restaurant supply company to recover prepared and packaged food, delivering meals prepared for charitable feeding, and in general ramping up the amount of food rescued from 139,000 pounds to 516,000 pounds, an increase of 275% in one year.

This was the equivalent of $900,000 worth of food, and 430,000 meals. In 2021, we’ve continued to add new farmer partners and nonprofit recipients, and are on track to rescue over 550,000 pounds of food. This new level of operations, which we do not see decreasing, was supported by government stimulus funding and the generosity of local residents through COVID-19 emergency relief grants, has increased our operating expenses by $90,000 per year, or 47%.

In addition to the growth in our food recovery program, in April 2020 Veggie Rescue was able to respond to a need in the town of Los Alamos, which was trying to figure out how to feed residents most impacted by lost jobs. Having recently completed the build of our first mobile solar refrigeration prototype, we lent our Solar Cooler to The Los Alamos Foundation. This allowed them to create and operate a food pantry for its town residents, using the Solar Cooler to take delivery of both Foodbank of SB and Veggie Rescue food donations from April 2020 – April 2021.

Q: In what ways does your nonprofit utilize it’s funding?

A: Veggie Rescue is made up of a small, but agile, staff. With just two full-time and three part-time employees, the majority of our funding goes to keeping our small fleet on the road, and our three part-time drivers picking up food from farms, farmers markets

and businesses. Our high-touch model, that focuses on making the most of rescued food, involves delivering to 65+ small nonprofits, from Carpinteria to Santa Maria and Guadalupe, delivering only what each nonprofit has space to refrigerate and make use of.

Q: How do people get involved/volunteer for your nonprofit?

A: Anyone who wants to know more about Veggie Rescue can reach us through our website, or send a note to [email protected].

There are multiple ways for people to get involved with Veggie Rescue.

  • Get added to our Gleaning Volunteer list, which is how we reach out when small farms or homeowners have produce that needs to be picked or harvested, and then donated.
  • Get added to the Cooking Volunteer list to help reduce food waste and increase access for those most vulnerable in our community to nutritious prepared foods.
  • We are growing! And, looking for people interested in joining a committee to help keep us connected to the communities we serve, grow our programs, and spread the word about the work we do.
Thank you to our farmers!
Click to view larger

Thank you to our farmers! (Veggies Rescue photo)

Q: What makes your nonprofit different from others?

A: Veggie Rescue has the privilege of making a difference in our community in many different ways. We address food insecurity by providing feeding programs with locally grown produce and high-quality prepared foods. This year we are on track to deliver 466,000 meals, or $980,000 worth of food that would otherwise go to waste, to nonprofits throughout the county.

We believe there is enough fresh produce for everyone and people in need can be connected with fresh produce outside of the traditional market. We provide free access to fresh produce that low-income families and seniors living on a fixed income may otherwise not be able to afford.

We care about the health of our community, and seek out partnerships with programs that are able to prepare healthy meals from the produce we rescue, as well as provide nutrition and cooking education to help families shift to more healthy eating habits.

And finally, we reduce food waste. Food waste in the U.S. uses 14% of our water, makes up 24% of our landfill, and causes 4% of the greenhouse gasses generated in our country.

Q: What is one best kept secret or fun fact about your nonprofit that not everyone knows?

A: One little known secret is that being a driver for Veggie Rescue is one of the best jobs in Santa Barbara County. You get to work outdoors with no computer in sight, visit farms and farmers markets to pick up food being donating, then go around the county.

Q: Can you tell us one short-term goal AND one long-term goal that your nonprofit has for the next year?

A: One short-term goal is to continue to optimize our collaboration with the SYV Community Kitchen, where fresh, rescued produce is made into nutritious meals by volunteers and then distributed by Veggie Rescue to nonprofits feeding people in need who may not have access to a kitchen.

Our goal is to document all that we learn along the way to share, via the newly created SBCFAN website, with other community kitchens in Santa Barbara County, to make it easier for others to start programs like this. One long-term goal is to further reduce food waste by developing an upcycled product made from rescued food or edible byproducts, and selling it to create some earned income to support our free services.

Click here to support Veggie Rescue’s mission to improve the nutrition and quality of life for community members who are struggling with food insecurity by providing them with healthy, local produce and high-quality prepared food



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