Hungry to help
When battlers are going hungry and big suppliers are dumping surplus food, something is wrong. Meet a man with an appetite for redressing the imbalance.
He shrugs his shoulders and tries to be philosophical, but FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho looks personally affronted as he relates how one food producer hires guards to escort trucks taking surplus food to the tip rather than tarnish its brand by giving it away.
Such waste seems criminal after witnessing FareShare’s kitchen full of volunteers, transforming boxes of donated food into hundreds of healthy meals, packed and frozen for distribution to homeless and hungry Victorians.
Last year 3000 volunteers – organised by a handful of paid staff – “rescued” 400 tonnes of food from landfill and created 450,000 meals, supplying 130 charities. When they can afford a bigger kitchen, Marcus believes there’s enough demand for FareShare to double that. “We’re aiming for a million meals a year.”
Up to 370,000 Victorians run out of food each year, and a survey of agencies feeding them reveals demand for at least 50% more meals, despite FareShare recently increasing its output to 10,000 meals a week.
“There’s far more food out there that’s surplus and good quality than there is need for food in the community from people struggling to make ends meet,” Marcus says. “Umpteen times more.” Young, motivated and buzzing with energy, he explains that the idea of saving food from landfill was what drew him to volunteering for the charity. At the time he was head of Environment Victoria and was focusing on climate change, water and waste.
“I knew of the resources involved with producing food and I thought it was a clever idea – when I learned people are going hungry in our society in the 21st century, it was a real shock.
“Learning about food security has opened my eyes but it’s the people and business involvement that I find so heartening, especially the small businesses. That spirit of generosity in our society is so strong. That’s something I get so excited about.”
Since his first shift as a kitchen hand in 2004, Marcus and the enterprise have come a long way.
FareShare was formed in 2001 from a merger between One Umbrella, which started cooking meals in RACV City Club’s kitchen, and Melbourne City Harvest. RACV was one of the first organisations to see its potential and provided seed funding. FareShare bought its first van in 2002, moved into its own kitchen in 2008 and now run three shifts of volunteers a day.
After a stint on the board, Marcus became its first paid CEO in 2007, taking his life even further away from its early course as a commerce graduate working for Mobil and NAB.
At FareShare, Marcus’s role is to develop partnerships and raise money. Under his guidance both have flourished: Woolworths, Aldi and Thomas Dux supermarkets supply 1500kg of meat, fruit and vegetables a day, Linfox donated a truck (FareShare now has six), philanthropic groups have jumped on board and dozens of companies provide in-kind or material support.
“We help some companies meet their zero waste goals, but others like to join because they know staff can get involved.”
Volunteers also have fun, which is why there’s a four-month waiting list for the daily corporate shifts.
“How community-minded would you think a group of 40-something blokes who did commerce degrees are? They are now working in high-flying careers and busy with young families but they do a nightshift every three months then go for a meal afterwards – and they’re one of our most productive shifts because they’re always so keen to get through their list of food to prepare and get down to the pub,” he says with a laugh.
Then there’s the singles nights that FareShare has run at Etihad stadium for the past two years. Both events have attracted 200 volunteers and produced 10,000 meals per shift.
While Marcus has increased FareShare’s efficiency by quantifying their supplies and demand, he knows he walks a fine line between saving waste and losing donations.
“Since we started reporting to companies how much we collect from them, (one donor’s) donations dropped by a third.”
Still he remains positive: “I’m curious to explore what we do with surplus quality food when we’re getting enough food to all the charities across Victoria.”
Marcus applies an interesting mix of business brain and social conscience to his role. He targets large suppliers with the potential to provide premium returns, but he recently turned down funding from one foundation because he thought another charity was better suited to take advantage of the offer.
“You can’t be greedy,” he explains. “And instead they made a donation towards our new kitchen, so we were happy.”
To know more about its work, go to www.fareshare.com.au
Waste and Want
FareShare works in close partnership with two other Melbourne-based groups involved in similar work: the state-sponsored VicRelief Foodbank, which since 1930 has supplied non-perishable food to relief agencies; and SecondBite, launched in 2005 to rescue fresh fruit and vegetables from being wasted.
The three groups share transport, storage and information, and recently collaborated on a survey of Victoria’s Community Food Programs (CFPs) to determine their need for food and infrastructure.
The survey found that in 2010 the three organisations donated more than 4.5 million kilograms of food to relief programs in Victoria. The 108 CFPs surveyed – less than one-fifth of the state total – serve 25,000 meals and distribute 7300 food parcels a week. Despite this, they cannot meet demand.
The CFPs distribute 30,638kg of food a week (about two-thirds is donated, the rest bought) but another 15,000kg is needed to meet demand.
Many agencies lack infrastructure, and Marcus Godinho is co-founder of Feed Melbourne, which seeks to provide fridges, freezers, microwaves and refrigerated vans to help agencies prepare, store and deliver more rescued food.
A major barrier to the flow of surplus food was removed in Victoria in 2002 with the introduction of the so-called Good Samaritan legislation, which indemnifies suppliers who donate safe food to charitable organisations. This exemption has now been introduced to all Australian states and territories. Strict food-handling timelines are in place at FareShare to ensure food is cooked and frozen judiciously.
Our throwaway society
- Each year Victorians throw out 700,000 tonnes of food – about 28,000 supermarkets worth of food. Australians throw out more than $7.8 billion worth of food annually. Some waste is due to incorrect labelling or damaged packaging.
- FareShare can cook, freeze and distribute a meal for about 50 cents.
- A survey of 108 agencies in Victoria revealed a shortfall of more than 26,000kg of food a week.
- FareShare aims to double its production to 20,000 meals a week.
- On average, every kilogram of food that FareShare recovers results in a saving of 1.5kg CO2 emissions and 56 litres of water.
- Putting food waste in landfill often results in the production of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2. Food waste is also a major contributor to the formation of leachate, a liquid run-off common in landfills, which pollutes ground water.
- 47% of municipal waste in landfill is food and green organic waste.
- More than three million tonnes of food is driven to landfill in Australia each year.