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FoodBlessed Ensures Surplus Food Goes Exactly Where It Is Needed

2 July, 2016
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Around one third of the world's meals go to waste. One nonprofit volunteer-based organization in Beirut, FoodBlessed, aims to ensure that edible food waste is redirected to people in need. BECAUSE spoke to cofounder Maya Terro.

"Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—gets lost or wasted," says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

Lebanon is no exception. With a high population of refugees from Syria and Palestine—up to a third of the population—hunger is a stark problem. According to Maya Terro, co-founder of FoodBlessed, the UN has stopped giving food vouchers for Syrian refugees in Lebanon due to lack of funds.

Yet despite the fact that nearly a third of the Lebanese population lives on just US $4 a day, she says 30% of the country's edible food is wasted. 
Terro points out the irony of food wastage.

"The amount of food wasted worldwide is more than enough to eradicate hunger, so every person has a social responsibility to manage their food waste and maintain a balance between helping people, the economy and the environment," she explains. 

And from that notion, FoodBlessed was born. Terro co-founded the project in 2012 to find ways to ensure food went to people, not trash cans. "The whole idea was to prepare or rescue food that would otherwise go to waste and get it to people in need," she told BECAUSE. "Four years later, I think starting FoodBlessed was one of the best decisions I ever took!"

FoodBlessed is a community-based, self-funded, volunteer-driven nonprofit organization that fights food poverty in Lebanon. They 'rescue' edible food that would have been thrown away from catering events, restaurants and shops, and redistribute it to those in need. This food in most cases is not sellable, but is perfectly edible. They provide free meals for the unfortunate in the community three times a week. They also work with schools and universities to spread awareness about the importance of managing food waste.

When FoodBlessed started, " ... a lot of people thought that we won't be able to last past year one. But we have survived for almost four years and 260,000 meals later, we've definitely proved them wrong," Terro says. 

So far they have three soup kitchens and plan to open a fourth this year in the Nabaa and Bourj Hammoud area in Beirut. 

To ensure they reach people, FoodBlessed spreads the word through NGOs and social workers. "We have had all sorts of beneficiaries which include, but are not limited to, the homeless, the elderly, street kids, refugees, migrant workers, and so on," says Terro. The organization now has regulars, some of whom have been coming for three years. 

"But still, we still want to reach those most at need who usually live outside Beirut. In order to serve them, we came up with the project SOUPer Meals on Wheels," Terro explains.

SOUPer Meals on Wheels—or SMW for short—is a roving food truck that feeds the hungry in the daytime and sells pizza to paying customers in the evening. In this way, SMW covers its own running costs. 

FoodBlessed are especially careful to ensure the food is fit for human consumption, by consulting closely with the providers and making sure it is stored properly. Terro wishes everybody would do the same. 

"Making sure that your fridge is set to the right temperature can mean the difference between food that lasts you the week, and food that gets thrown out … If your food is nearing the end of its edible existence, save it in your freezer."

The issue is not only social, but environmental. Around half of food waste is produced during the consumption stage. According to a 2013 report by the FAO, the water used in the production of our current food waste is the same as the annual flow of the Volga river. It also releases 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"By working on diverting food that was meant to be trashed, and turning into a wholesome meal that feed bellies instead of ending up in bins, FoodBlessed is also taking care of Mother Nature," says Terro. 

Terro has built a great deal of support, having worked with over 900 volunteers, and over 200 partner NGOs and companies including Zaatar w Zeit, Dunkin' Donuts and Casper & Gambini's. But as well as her management role, she is thoroughly hands-on: along with everyone else she cooks in the soup kitchen, delivers the meals, sets up tables and cleans up afterwards.

"My calling has always been to 'serve to lead, lead to serve'," she says, explaining why she doesn't take a salary from FoodBlessed. "Some of my friends think I need to get a life," she jokes. "But the work I do at FoodBlessed is what adds meaning to my life. I have the best job in the world."

Her enthusiasm is infectious, which passes on to her ‘Hunger Heroes’—her volunteers, who cook, serve and deliver meals. "Over the course of time, I noticed that there was even something for the volunteers—they felt engaged and that their time and effort mattered," she says. "Many volunteers have told me that the experience has changed the way they perceive poverty … They also find themselves practicing what we preach by cutting down their food waste." She emphasises the need for more 'Hunger Heroes', who come for the long term or just for occasional help.

“Everyone is welcome, no matter where they are from or how old they are. Aged six or 60, we need you!" You can find out more about volunteering for FoodBlessed through the online form here. 

The benefits are clear. “Many of our soup kitchen regulars say they come to feed their souls not just their tummies," says Terro. "The love, care, social and emotional support that our Hunger Heroes provide in the form of a meal is what really makes us stand out as an organization. Because as we all know, food is love."

Image courtesy of FoodBlessed

Tags Because MENA social enterprise NGO CSR volunteering food waste Lebanon meals on wheels soup kitchens FoodBlessed FAO hunger