Shocked by Amounts of Discarded Excess Food, She Invented an Innovative Food Rescue System
During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the impact of volunteer service in our communities, and recognize extraordinary individuals who are at the center of social change – like Daily Point of Light Award honoree Hannah Dehradunwala. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
“What stuck out [in Pakistan] was the way that people made use of things that would otherwise be considered waste,” said Hannah Dehradunwala. “I lived with my grandmother for five years, and everything in her house had a double use.”
After spending her first 11 years in the United States, Hannah moved to Pakistan and was deeply impacted by the cultural dedication to reuse. She remembers how items that elsewhere might have been thrown away circulated throughout the community, finding a second or third life after their original owner had finished with them.
Upon her return to the United States, Hannah enrolled at New York University where she became involved in organizing student events on campus. She was struck by the amount of excess food that was discarded after catered events. After an unsuccessful search for organizations that would help her donate this excess food, and storing as much as she could in her tiny dorm room to donate herself, Transfernation was born.
Transfernation provides a platform for companies and corporate hospitality groups to donate extra food through on-demand pickups. Trusted independent contractors, including ride-share drivers and bike messengers, pick up leftover catering and deliver it to community-based organizations that then feed hungry New Yorkers.
While the model seems simple, just a few years ago there were few sustainable options for the donation of catered food in New York City. The logistics of transporting and storing leftover food are complicated, and shelters and soup kitchens typically lack the capacity to handle them on their own. Transfernation has created a new pipeline for the rescue and use of much-needed food, empowering community organizations and reducing the overall environmental footprint by reducing food waste in the process.
One of the hallmarks of Transfernation is the use of technology, most notably with its mobile app, which streamlines the process for donors. “We take care of all the messy logistics,” the Transfernation website states. “Because half your day should not be spent trying to figure out who wants your extra food and how to get it to them.”
Transfernation is always looking to improve its model and develop new partnerships. This year, Hannah and Transfernation will launch a new collaboration with DoorDash, a national food delivery platform. Through this partnership, Transfernation will be able to significantly expand its reach in New York City, and to two additional cities by the end of 2019. Hannah, who has helped with more than 500 pickups and deliveries herself, knows firsthand what a logistical undertaking this will be.
Hannah strives to build and support community wherever possible. The independent contractors who work with Transfernation make between 30 percent and 35 percent of their annual income through food pickups, and Hannah is committed to paying them a living wage. “A lot of [our contractors] come from financially insecure backgrounds,” she said. “A lot of them also eat at the shelters. Being able to do this, they’re getting paid to do work that is meaningful that they don’t have to give up other paid work to do.”
Recently, one of Transfernation’s transporters shared that he was able to pay back 20 percent of his student loans using funds he had made through his partnership with the organization.
Through partnerships with more than 200 contractors and 16 community organizations, Transfernation has rescued 600,000 pounds of food and provided 580,000 meals to those without reliable access to food sources. These meals, often leftovers from corporate cafeterias, are healthy and full of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and protein, which are essential to a balanced diet yet often the most difficult foods for clients requiring food assistance to access.
Alonda Myers, who runs the kitchen at Grace United Methodist Church in Manhattan, is a longtime partner of Transfernation. She says that the donations have helped her to “expand services considerably, from 60-70 meals a week to well over 400 meals a week.” When construction at the church rendered the kitchen inaccessible for nearly two years, the prepared food from Transfernation allowed Alonda and her team to continue providing critical services to clients and neighbors.
“Back when I was still doing quite a few of our pickups myself, I was bringing food from one of our corporate partners to Crossroads Community Service Center, and a line was already forming outside with people waiting for their dinner program to start,” Hannah said. “As I was bringing the food inside, there was a lady on line that called out, ‘Hey! You’re the people that bring the good stuff!’ It’s one of my favorite memories, mostly because it showed me that people were really noticing the change in the quality of food.”
THE DIFFERENCE SHE MAKES
Diego Gerena-Quinones partnered with Hannah in the summer of 2017, and works alongside her and the Transfernation team as a cargo bike rider. He has seen first-hand how much of Hannah’s heart is in the work she is doing.
“Hannah is a true leader,” said Diego. “She is out there doing work on the ground and she shows up to solve the big problems, starting small and seeing it through.”
He believes that Trasnfernation is not just a hobby for Hannah. She is dedicated to addressing food waste, creating jobs, and bringing together talented people to make a difference in the world.
Hannah Dehradunwala was a Top 10 finalist for the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Award in 2018. Each year L’Oréal Paris and Points of Light recognize and celebrate Women of Worth who make a beautiful difference in their communities. Ten honorees each receive a $10,000 grant to support their most cherished cause, and an online vote determines one honoree who will receive an additional $25,000 grant. Nominations for 2019 are now open! If you know a woman who works to create lasting and significant change in her community, nominate her to be one of the 2019 Women of Worth.