Shared by,Tahir Mahmood
It was 2011. She had just come back from Navy summer training and was attending the University of California at Berkeley to start work on her undergraduate degree.
While she was walking near campus one fall day, a homeless man approached her, asking for money to buy food because he was hungry. Instead of giving him cash, Ahmad invited the man to lunch. As they ate, he told her his story. He was a soldier recently returned from Iraq and had a bad turn of luck.
“He’d already gone on two deployments and now he’s come back, he’s 26 and on the side of the road begging for food,” Ahmad said. “It just blew my mind.”
It bothered her so much that she decided to do something about it. Within a few months, Ahmad set up a program at UC Berkeley that allowed the school’s dining halls to donate excess food to local homeless shelters. That program then expanded to 140 college campuses across the US in about three years.
Ahmad, now 25 years old and CEO of a nonprofit service called Feeding Forward, is looking to expand even more into what she calls on-demand food recovery.
Through a website and mobile app, Feeding Forward matches businesses that have surplus food with nearby homeless shelters. Here’s how it works: when companies or event planners have surplus food, they tap the Feeding Forward app and provide details of their donation. A driver is dispatched to quickly pick up the leftovers and deliver them to food banks.
“Imagine a football stadium filled to its brim,” Ahmad said. “That’s how much food goes wasted every single day in America.”
Excess food is a serious issue in the US. After paper, food scraps are the nation’s second largest source of waste, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Leftovers fill 18 percent of landfills and make up over 30 million tons of what is sent to dumps each year. When cut off from oxygen, the organic matter creates methane gas and contributes to global warming.
At the same time, the EPA says that roughly 50 million people in the US don’t have access to enough food. That’s more than 15 percent of the population — or nearly one in six people.
“In the US, about 40 percent of the food we grow never gets eaten,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate in the Food and Agriculture Program at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “We have a lot of people in the US who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s a travesty. We have such an abundance, and people are in a state of scarcity.”