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Dayton non-profit rescues food from ending in the dumpster. It's also connecting neighbors

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Jen Burns
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Courtesy Access to Excess

Jen Burns runs Access to Excess — a food rescue non-profit. That means she drives to grocery stores and farms to pick up produce that would’ve gone to waste.

The goal is to put excess food into the hands of people that don't otherwise have access to it or might be living in an underserved community in Dayton, Burns said.

And now, she’s partnered with Fresh Food Connect — an app that makes it easier for backyard growers or community gardens to donate any extra produce.

The app gives the community the choice to either drop off or arrange a pick up for a batch of produce. Burns said there’s a need for this service in Dayton.

“All the food that we’re exchanging hands with was meant to be thrown away. So to see it redistributed a few miles down the road to a family that by no fault of their own doesn’t have access to a grocery store. Seeing that transaction there is the goal." Burns said.

Burns started to rescue food in 2019 after quitting her job at an airline company. She decided to work at a grocery store, but quickly realized how much produced is wasted because it didn’t sell.

“I just witnessed firsthand the massive amounts of food that was being thrown away,” Burns said. “I learned that one in six people in the Dayton area don't have access to fresh produce. And here we were, literally throwing it away. It was about $50,000 worth of wholesome food every month.”

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, at least 30% of the country’s food supply goes to waste. The reasons are many, but it could include spoilage, logistics problems or lack of labor at farms or other supply chains.

The Solid Waste District in Montgomery County does not regularly track food waste, according to Bob Downing, Assistant Director of Montgomery County Environmental Services.

In a statement, Downing said the agency did conduct a Solid Waste Characterization Study in 2015 that showed approximately 15% of the waste processed at its facilities was food waste.

Burns said it's inevitable that some food at groceries stores, farms and gardens will still go to waste despite organizations like her. She added, it takes commitment from the community and businesses to at least help reduce the waste. And an app that connects the community could help.

“It's naive to think that any organization could end food waste or be the person that picks up every amount of surplus food out there,” Burns said. “So we need everybody to do everything they can to find homes to distribute that surplus that already exists.”

Food reporter Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming