It’s a problem that seems to come with a solution: According to census data, one out of every six Americans lacks stable access to nutritious food, and yet 30 to 40 percent of the food supply from restaurants and supermarkets winds up in landfills every year.
Meanwhile, countless charities offer direct access to those hungry people, but they lack steady, efficient partnerships with the restaurants and markets that have extra food at the end of each day. Even the government stands ready to help, offering significant tax deductions for donated food, albeit requiring cumbersome paperwork to realize those benefits.
Leave it to Aussies with tech backgrounds to solve this puzzle.
Jason and Kim Graham-Nye are the cofounders of Meal Pass, a new app that connects the above dots, thereby cutting down food waste, directly feeding the hungry, saving restaurants money with ease, and dramatically boosting the impact of participating nonprofits. Said Jason Graham-Nye, “It never paid so well to do so good.”
Last month, the couple — who are dedicated to developing more sustainable, circular economies and also founded the successful gDiapers [CQ] company — launched the app with Santa Barbara as the test market. They’ve so far enlisted 15 restaurants and numerous nonprofits to donate more than 6,000 meals, “that would have otherwise been thrown away,” said Graham-Nye. “On average, every month participating restaurants are generating $4,000 in tax deductions.”
They chose Santa Barbara as a launch point because they have friends here who’ve invested in the company, and find it similar to their home in Bombay Beach, outside of Sydney. “It’s very beautiful, but also struggling with a lot of inequality,” he said. “If there are ways we can address that inequality, we’d love to be part of it.”
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The basic way Meal Pass works is “quite elegant,” said Graham-Nye. After every lunch and dinner, restaurant managers can enter the amount of meals they have to give away after that shift. The app then accesses a database of hungry clients from the participating charities and puts the available meals on a map. Those in search of meals claim them via the app and go pick it up for themselves at the restaurant. The donation is tallied for the restaurant’s tax records. “Meals” range from unserved entrees and sandwiches in deli cases to unused foods that a chef whips up into a meal at the end of a shift. “We access that food and put it directly in the hands of people who need it,” he said.
The need for a service like this will only increase, as a new California law that goes into effect next month demands that supermarkets do more to cut down on their waste. Large restaurants will fall under the same rules in a couple of years. New York is considering similar laws, and other states are sure to follow.
That increasing volume is where Meal Pass, which is a for-profit business, sees room for growth. The company charges 5 percent of a restaurant’s tax savings, but there is no fee to sign up. Graham-Nye has not found a direct competitor yet. “There is clear air where we are,” he said.
While feeding the hungry and fighting food waste are the most environmentally and socially impactful goals of Meal Pass, Graham-Nye believes it can be a critical tool in helping restaurants survive and thrive into the future.
“Restaurants are coming out of a hellacious time, and now their operating expenses are soaring and it’s difficult to get staff in,” he said. “If there is a way we can help them build back better, we would love it.”