FoodRecovery.org, formerly MEANS (Matching Excess And Needs for Stability) Database, is an online platform connecting organizations with surplus food to communities in need, championing sustainability by diverting edible food away from landfills. All for free. Since 2015, we’ve worked to prevent food insecurity and continue to adapt to meet the needs of food businesses and nonprofit organizations serving their communities.
Over the Years
2023 exceeded our expectations and we are proud to say that FoodRecovery.org saved more than 52 million pounds of food in one year! Let’s see what happens next . . .
2022 kicked off a strong partnership with Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) in Orlando, Florida to recover excess food from schools. These regular, weekly donations are a huge hit with partners. In early 2023, OCPS and MEANS Database were awarded grant funding from the USDA to expand this pilot program. In Rhode Island, we received another round of support through the EPA in collaboration with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and the Rhode Island Department of Health.
In mid-2022, MEANS Database started to support larger donations of 20,000 – 40,000 pounds of excess food from warehouses, gleaners, and distribution centers as part of our regular operations. These donations ranged from dairy products to meat, water and produce, to snacks and more. With the onboarding of our Director of Procurement, William Bell, in January 2023 we continued to secure bigger donations and bigger partnerships across the country. Thirteen times bigger!
In 2021, MEANS continued to run the Community Meal Program supporting over one hundred nonprofits across the country as they helped their local communities face the challenges left by COVID-19. We continue to do Community engagement events nationwide where we partner with local restaurants and organizations to provide high quality meals to communities in need. Since the program’s inception, FoodRecovery.org has shared over 550,000 meals. We started increasing our work in Florida by partnering with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program and began intensifying our outreach strategy in the state. In partnership with nonprofit organizations across the state, we began recovering thousands of pounds of food, kickstarting our Florida program. MEANS also strengthened our Rhode Island programming by making deeper connections with RIDOH, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, and other partners. Internally, Co-Founder Maria Rose Belding transitioned to Chair of the Board and Sammie Paul became MEANS Database’s Executive Director.
Our Response to COVID-19
In 2020 the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic- restaurants closed their doors, farmers lost their markets, and food pantries saw a massive increase in need. As the world struggled to overcome this new reality, MEANS jumped into action to source food for nonprofit organizations across the country. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MEANS pivoted from our traditional food recovery model to assist indigenous communities in accessing essential resources and expanded into providing meals to nonprofit organizations serving their community. By paying local, majority BIPOC-owned restaurants to make catering orders for nonprofit organizations in cities across the country, the Community Meal Program served over 500,000 meals, investing more than $3.5 million into small businesses in nine cities nationwide.
Our early days as a nonprofit were certainly exciting! We had some of our first donations on the platform, from canned beans to squab and squash. Our growing team of volunteers created outreach campaigns to build awareness of our work, develop relationships with nonprofits, and recruit food businesses to donate excess food using our website. The website continued to improve as we received feedback from our newfound partners and learned more about the emergency food system.
We started making some great partnerships across the country that promoted food recovery! In the summer of 2016, we began recovering excess food from the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s Summer Food Service Program. This was our first program that highlighted the importance of transportation for food donation. In addition to this partnership, we began collaborating with the Rhode Island Department of Health in 2017 to encourage food recovery across the state. We began an outreach campaign in Rhode Island that launched our efforts that continue in the state to this day!
MEANS (Matching Excess and Need for Stability) Database launched in February 2015 with the belief that it should be easy for those with excess food to share with those in need. Our organization was co-founded by Maria Rose Belding and Grant Nelson. Maria Rose witnessed the challenges faced by nonprofit staff as a volunteer at her local food pantry. She reached a turning point when she had to throw out hundreds of boxes of macaroni and cheese while people waited in line for food outside of her local food pantry. At that moment, she knew there must be a better way to distribute food and reduce food waste. She met Grant Nelson, and they came up with the website design, and MEANS Database was born.
Maria Rose founded MEANS Database with Grant Nelson while they were both students in the Washington, D.C. area. Maria Rose wanted to build a website to reduce food waste and modernize the food donation system. Since a large portion of the food recovery space still relies on phone trees and fax machines, a website was believed to be the best answer. Grant used his expertise in coding to build the technology behind MEANS. Together, they created the database and launched a system that has revolutionized food recovery.
Maria Rose was recognized as a Daily Point of Light
Daily Point of Light Award winner Maria Rose Belding was recognized by L’Oréal Paris and Points of Light as a 2015 Women of Worth honoree for her extraordinary efforts to cut down on food waste in the United States.
Feeding the Hungry with Data Science
As part of a multi-part series of GROW from The Atlantic, this article discusses how technology is impacting the ways we cultivate, prepare, and deliver food at home and beyond.