PUBLIC PROFILE: Pamala Joy, Founder, Food Angels
RVM: What sets Food Angels apart from other food rescue programs?
PJ: What sets it apart from several other programs is that from the beginning I focused on live food. Fruits, vegetables, things that people eat naturally as opposed to cans and boxes. When I started around 1995, the food bank wouldn’t take the live food I offered them. [It was] too much trouble and they don’t know what to do if it goes bad. So I was finding other places like Uncle Food’s diner, the community free meal that would happily take the food they could process and put it into a meal. And now I have to say, I’m very proud that I think I was at least in part responsible for the food bank now taking lots of live food. We are not a food bank, we are a food rescue and redistribution service. It’s completely volunteer. Nobody gets paid, even me. It came to my knowledge, that a lot of food was being thrown away from bakeries and stores. I hate waste, so I began collecting it and trying to find out where it should go. Who’s hungry, where are the holes?
RVM: What are the main sources for rescued food?
PJ: First of all I want to appreciate that we live in an area where there are abundant wonderful organic farmers. Ten or twelve of those farms have supported Food Angels throughout its history. So in the farmers’ market season we get a lot of food from local farmers. Then, Market of Choice is our biggest donor. From them we get produce, bakery stuff, deli and dairy stuff. We also pick up from the produce departments at Shop n’ Kart and the Food Coop, and we do pick ups every day.
RVM: Do you get mostly gleaned blemished or otherwise imperfect produce from those sources?
PJ: Not necessarily. Certainly if something has a blemish, but it could be a small blemish. But if a market has, for example, a new shipment of potatoes that come in and they have too many potatoes there, they’re going to send the older ones on to me. And you know, nothing looks wrong with them. But certainly, we live in a culture where if someone goes to the store, they don’t want to buy something with a blemish. So the stores are in a bind where they can’t sell it. I consider it a sadness that we as a culture won’t accept something with a bruise.
RVM: How do you take care of all these perishables once they’re donated?
PJ: Fast movement. You don’t want to leave it sitting around very long! In the winter it’s not a problem because it’s cold, there’s an outdoor fridge. When I started this, I worked in my yard and covered things with a tarp. And eventually I had use of the garage. But in the summer it’s hot, so I raised money to build a little shed within the garage. Would it be a walk-in fridge if I had twelve thousand dollars, but it’s a walk-in cool room with an air conditioner. So that helps keep the food cool in the hot months. We now work much more closely with the food bank and take a lot of food to them because they have two walk-ins, so we can get it out of the heat and into their fridge.
RVM: How much food does Food Angels divert?
PJ: We’ve been weighing it for a couple years and we have shifted over 250 thousand pounds of food over the last two or three years. And it could have before that but we didn’t weigh it before that. So it’s a lot, we do this seven days a week. The only day we take off is Christmas because the stores are closed.