412 Food Rescue – Building a Better Food System

Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community through Art opens this Friday, and since September is also Hunger Action Month, we thought it was the perfect time to share a bit about our Community Partner, 412 Food Rescue. Read on for an interview with Sara Swaney, VP of Advancement and Engagement at 412 Food Rescue, where she discusses how 412 Food Rescue is working to build a better, more equitable food system.

First, tell us how what originally inspired you to become involved with 412 Food Rescue? 

Throughout my professional career, I have always been drawn to roles that enable me to support the community where I live. Whether it was working in a community affairs role at a corporation or at a nonprofit where I was helping to advance our mission and provide essential services, I am most fulfilled when providing service to others. This is one of the many reasons that inspired me to become involved with 412 Food Rescue, along with my personal belief that no one should ever have to worry about how they will feed themselves or their family, especially when there is so much perfectly good food that is otherwise discarded. Now being part of this amazing team, I am inspired each day by everyone involved in this work to support the mission – businesses that donate, individuals that volunteer, partners that help us distribute food – it truly takes a community to make it work!

Sara and her son doing a rescue.

How does 412 Food Rescue help in building a better food system? 

There will likely always be surplus in our food system and among all segments of the supply chain. However, 412 Food Rescue tackles this problem and builds a better food system by redirecting this perfectly good food to people who need it. Our work is focused on educating, advocating and connecting through engagement and community-building to ensure that we are feeding people, not landfills, with this abundance of food. 

412 Food Rescue has supported and led many art and music events in Pittsburgh. One amazing event that comes to mind is the collaboration with Yinz Citizen during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This virtual concert helped to raise awareness about hunger and food waste in Pittsburgh. Through the intersection of art, music, and food, people came together for one common cause. What does it mean to you to connect food justice and art or music? What role do you think art can have in inspiring social change? 

This goes back to our focus on creating community and collaboration. 412 Food Rescue aims to engage diverse groups in our mission just as it is our goal to meet people whom we serve through food distribution where they are. This is one of the things I love most about 412 Food Rescue – how we aspire to collaborate with communities through our mission in unique and creative ways, so that these communities may wish to engage with us. Yinz Citizen is just one example of how we brought together a diverse group of amazing Pittsburgh artists that may have never worked with us before, for one common cause, while celebrating all who have been instrumental in supporting 412 Food Rescue.  

412 Food Rescue + SpareChange

An important aspect of our upcoming Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community Through Art is the sense of community that is fostered through this subject matter and art. That sense of how we connect and engage through community greatly shifted during the COVID-19 Pandemic. One way that 412 Food Rescue was able to continue the work of connection was the Community Takeout program. How did this program, and others, help in continuation of community building and support? 

412 Food Rescue would not have been able to respond to the needs presented by the community if it were not for the food donors, volunteers, partners and financial supporters – not just with the Community Takeout Program, but also Home Delivery, which enabled door-to-door capabilities supporting people forced into isolation with organizations unable to reach them; the school meal distribution program; and so much more. This was evident early on when we saw a surge in people downloading and registering on the 412 Food Rescue mobile app – people were stepping up to help others and aid in our mission to provide food access. We established partnerships and found innovative ways to expand our mission to serve more people. We were truly all in it together. And while there wasn’t a playbook for how any one person, group, community, or government knew how to navigate a global pandemic, it was a true testament of humanity that so many were willing to work together to help each other. 

We are so excited to have 412 Food Rescue prepare the opening reception food for our upcoming show. Would you mind telling us a bit about what it means to use rescued food for a reception such as this? How does sharing food with others at an event like this help in fostering a sense of community? 

Food creates community – it is one basic need that connects us all. I believe that sharing food with each other provides an intimate connection which 412 Food Rescue hopes will foster a sense of community. When I talk to people about the work of 412 Food Rescue, I find myself using words like ‘surplus,’ ‘waste,’ or ‘landfill.’ However, if you have ever done a food rescue, you will find that the food we recover from businesses is beautiful – often fresh fruits and vegetables. This spurs conversation, whether you are doing a food rescue with someone, like I have with my son, or with friends sharing your experience. It makes you wonder if every business donated food, if more people did food rescues, if I did a food rescue – what kind of community would that create? 

To learn more about 412 Food Rescue, including how you can get involved, visit https://412foodrescue.org/.

Join us on Friday, September 10, from 5:30-8:00 PM, for the opening reception of Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community through Art. The reception is free and open to the public. For more information on Food Justice, visit exploremindfulart.com.