But connecting unused food to those in need takes more than goodwill. It takes connections, relationships and time that many businesses do not have.
That is where Keep Austin Fed comes in. The nonprofit funded by grants and private donations provides a network of volunteers who run food every day from places such as Trader Joe’s or the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to recipients such as schools, churches or affordable housing complexes.
“Our volunteers, we play the logistics and the middleman transport more than anything. We match the food donor with the recipient organization, and our volunteers take it directly from Point A to Point B,” said Lisa Barden, Keep Austin Fed executive director. “We don’t have any storage facility at all.”
Staff at Keep Austin Fed coordinate the schedules for their food donors and recipients, matching up the two based on the sizes the donation and locations, then scheduling volunteers for each run.
Alpaca Market, which provides fresh meals in vending machines all over Austin, takes the extra food from those vending machines at the end of the day and sends it off with Keep Austin Fed volunteers the next morning. Janai Martinez, Alpaca’s director of sales and marketing, said Keep Austin Fed is providing a service Alpaca could not perform on its own.
“I don’t think we could donate the amount of food we do or find organizations and communities that need it and that are open to accepting it,” Martinez said. “It would be really hard.”
On June 28, volunteers Mark Sterling and Sheila Sorvari ran a shipment of food across downtown from Alpaca to Capital Studios, an affordable housing complex run by Foundation Communities. Sterling is semiretired from a career working in a research lab at the University of Houston, so he does about five runs per week, but Barden said Keep Austin Fed is always looking for volunteers, and there is no minimum commitment for hours.
“Even if they do it once a month, the more people we have, that means more food runs get covered,” she said.