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'The face of hunger looks different': A company fighting food waste adapts to the pandemic

"We are seeing people who have never been hungry before," Crowe said.
Image: Cathy Anderson Dave Holsey
Cathy Anderson and Dave Holsey, National Church Residencies employees deliver Goodr food to seniors at Baptist Towers in Atlanta.Sojourner Marable Grimmett

Jasmine Crowe trained for times like this: She diverts millions of pounds of food from landfills and transports them to feed people in need at their homes, senior centers, pop-up markets, a network of nonprofits and other places that provide meals for those who are hungry.

"I was feeding 10 families a week a month ago and now I'm feeding 2,000 families weekly," said Crowe, whose "profit for good" food waste management company, Goodr, is headquartered in Atlanta.

Now with millions of Americans facing unemployment as a result of COVID-19, she's watched food lines grow.

"We are seeing people who have never been hungry before," Crowe said. "The face of hunger looks different."

Jasmine after receiving the Trailblazing Woman Award from the Atlanta YMCA.Courtesy of Jasmine Crowe

Crowe is not surprised by the lines or the videos of farmers throwing away milk and vegetables. She traveled the country for years talking about how a lot of the food we grow gets thrown away and does not reach the people who need it the most.

In 2017, she even created an app so that malls, company cafeterias, restaurants, special events, stadiums and large companies can notify Goodr if they have food for pick up to be donated.

In other words, to make donating food easier.

"Hunger is not a matter of scarcity, but a matter of logistics," Crowe says often and explained in her 2017 Ted Talk, viewed by almost 1.5 million people.

"There is more than enough food," she said recently. "There is a social inequity between people who don't have food and can't get it and people who have more than they need and throw it away."

Now in the midst of the pandemic, word of Goodr's ability to deliver food to vulnerable populations is spreading rapidly.

Robert Moore, Resident at Baptist Towers, receiving food from Goodr.Sojourner Marable Grimmett

As part of its community service response to COVID-19, the Atlanta Hawks Foundation partnered with Goodr to provide pop-up grocery markets and food deliveries.

"To date, we've supplied over 3,000 families with enough groceries for two weeks with plans to work with Goodr to serve an additional 3,000 families," said David Lee, Executive Vice President of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena and Executive Director, Atlanta Hawks Foundation.

"Goodr provided a way for us to assist in sustaining our community during this difficult time."

According to the United Way, 1 in 8 families -- 12.3 percent of all U.S. households -- live with hunger. For families in rural areas, 15 percent experience hunger. And 60 percent of households led by older Americans must choose between buying groceries or paying utility bills.

But these are 2019 figures, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Crowe had been convinced for years that technology could solve the problem of addressing hunger: How to have the food industry track and redirect surplus food. She created the answer in 2017 -- an app she tailors for each company that partners with her. The app lists a company's inventory and calculates information such as the weight of the items and the tax value of the donation. Once a company contacts her with a donation list, Goodr contacts a driver to pick up and deliver the food. Goodr even provides the packaging to be used by the company.

In this way, Goodr has diverted nearly 2 million pounds of food from landfills and developed clients that include Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the NFL and Netflix. Crowe has a staff of 70 employees and operates in seven markets, including Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles.

"Food gets delivered to a network of nonprofits across the country -- to senior homes, food pantries, group homes, foster homes and big shelters," she said.

She does not forget people like herself, individuals who with volunteers feed people on the streets.

She started feeding people who are homeless in 2013, working with volunteers to put together "Soul Sunday Dinners". She served homemade spaghetti with corn, garlic bread and salad; rented chairs and tables and covered them with tablecloths. She printed menus and played music.

"People danced. They were so happy and grateful," she recalled.

Over the years she fed over 80,000 people, using coupons and her own money. She posted a video from the dinners that received over a million viewers. People asked how they could donate. Crowe began to ask: Where can I find food?

Goodr staff member preparing food give-away.Courtesy of Jasmine Crowe

She researched food waste and was appalled to discover how much food is thrown away in this county. According to the Department of Agriculture in 2010, 30 - 40 percent of the food supply is wasted -- approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food a year.

Crowe was frustrated by the waste, but was moved to action. Goodr also delivers groceries to seniors at properties owned by National Church Residences in Atlanta, which has some 1,400 residents.

"Jasmine will call and ask, 'Who is in need?' She deliveries groceries and a lot of fresh meals that the residents love," said Sojourner Marable Grimmett, director of external affairs for NCR's Atlanta Region. "Goodr is a true blessing for us, especially since COVID-19 has really increased the need."

Raioni Madison-Jones, who once volunteered with Crowe's Sunday Soul Dinners, now receives help from Goodr.

"I'm a single mom with a 12-year-old and a 5-year-old and I lost my job," Madison-Jones said. "Goodr gives you quality food. For two weeks we were able to have meals, not just canned goods. It was things my kids could prepare on their own: hot dogs, bacon, cereal, milk -- and the fresh produce was awesome."

Meanwhile, Crowe hopes that after the pandemic the government continues to distribute food to those in need. She said it's been hard to change this country's narrative about hunger.

"I've had people at major companies say to me, 'Hunger has been solved,'' she said.

In her Ted Talk, Crowe points out that France, Italy and Denmark have laws that either require markets to donate food or be fined or have tax incentives and rules that make donating easy.

"We should have solved hunger years ago," she said. "We need to change the laws and change policies. Food drives do not solve hunger."