Calgary

Charity that rescues food and feeds the hungry needs volunteers

Since 2012, the Leftovers Foundation has rescued thousands of kilograms of food headed for the compost heap or landfill and instead given the perishables to hungry Calgarians.

Leftovers Foundation wants to expand across Canada but needs 100 volunteers to help

Lourdes Juan founded the Leftovers Foundation in 2012. She's hoping to expand the charity but is being held back by a shortage of volunteers. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Lourdes Juan is on a mission to expand the organization she founded six years ago but she needs about 100 people to give her a hand.

Since 2012, the Leftovers Foundation has rescued thousands of kilograms of food headed for the compost heap or landfill and instead given the perishables to hungry Calgarians.

The group collects donations from approximately 60 businesses — grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops — and then delivers the food to various agencies and community groups.

The charity is hoping to expand across the country, but it's in a holding pattern because it can't find enough people for all of those pickups and drop-offs in Calgary. 

Calgary's Prairie Mill bakery donates day-old bread to the Leftovers Foundation. The Calgary charity says it needs about 100 more volunteers to help deliver the donated goods. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Juan says she needs at least 100 people to help cover the estimated 84 routes they operate every week in the city. They already have about 220 volunteers in Calgary and another 50 who are running a pilot program in Edmonton.

Without enough volunteers to cover the routes, Juan says her organization will have to contact vendors to tell them they won't be able to make the pickups and that the food should be composted. It's a frustration for Juan knowing the food will be wasted.

"Like every non-profit, like every organization, we struggle with volunteers," said Juan.

"We want to make sure no route goes unattended and that people are engaged in delivering food from one place to the next."

To make matters worse, a delivery agreement with ride-hailing company Uber is coming to an end. Volunteers used Uber to make the pickups and deliveries and then get driven back home. 

"So we are sort of looking at other ways where volunteers who don't have vehicles can actually volunteer through a ride-share program," said Juan.

Cutting food waste

Prairie Mill Bread Co. is one of the vendors that donates perishable food to Leftovers. The loaves of bread are a day or two old but are still good to eat. The bakery donates several racks of bread to Leftovers every week.

"Why would anybody want to throw out perfectly good product?" asks Craig Jensen, a manager at Prairie Mill in Brentwood.

"If it can go to a good place, if you know it can be appreciated, if it's going to be put to good use, it's absolutely a no-brainer," he said.

The bakery works with another group that also picks up the bread and makes sandwiches for hungry Calgarians: the Sandwich Foundation.

A box of fruits and vegetables donated by Bridgeland Market for the Leftovers Foundation. The grocery store is one of 60 vendors that donates to the Calgary charity, which rescues perishable food from heading to the landfill or compost pile. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

"Like Leftovers, we try not to waste a single thing that's in the city," said Amanda Paes, the founder of the Sandwich Foundation. "If we can use it, we'll definitely be more than happy to take it and give it to either the homeless working program that we have or our hamper program, or we do a breakfast program for some of the Catholic schools in the city."

Juan says unless more volunteers step forward, her plan to expand into other cities will have to wait. She says that while volunteers are asked to use their own vehicles to pick up and drop off donated goods, she says the commitment can be just one or two hours per month.

"Having that steady volunteer base really does make a huge difference because we cannot bring on more vendors and service agencies [without them]," said Juan.

"The important part of our organization is that most of it is volunteer powered."


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.