A Mighty Girl – December 19, 2015
A chance encounter with a homeless veteran made 21-year-old Komal Ahmad realize that she wanted to devote her life to eradicating hunger around the world — with 356 million pounds of edible food thrown away daily, she considers hunger “the world’s dumbest problem.” Four years later, the now 25-year-old is the founder and CEO of Feeding Forward, a non-profit organization which has built a real-time, web-based platform to connect businesses with leftover food to organizations that feed the hungry. Thanks to its unique system, 780,000 pounds of high-quality, fresh food have gone to feed over 600,000 people in need instead of ending up in landfills!
Four years ago, a man approached Ahmad to ask for money for a sandwich; instead, the then undergraduate at UC Berkeley took him to lunch. “We sat and had lunch and I asked him his story and he said, ‘I just came back from my second deployment in Iraq, I was evicted from my house last week, I’ve been waiting for several weeks to have my benefits kick in, but until then, I don’t have any money and I don’t have any food,’ she recalls. “I’m sitting in front of a veteran – someone who had made the most selfless sacrifice possible and something I was planning to make myself as I was about to enter the U.S. Navy – and this guy is now quite literally on the streets begging for food.”
Determined to find a way to eradicate hunger, Ahmad started an on-campus food recovery program to donate leftover meals from the dining hall. But she quickly realized that getting perishable food to people was a huge challenge. In one memorable incident, the dining hall offered 500 sandwiches from an event that was poorly attended, but they had to be used that day since they were perishable. “I rent a Zipcar and I drive to our dining hall dock, and I’m by myself, so it takes me 30 minutes to load the food,” Ahmad says. “Then I call our entire list of recipient agencies…a third of them don’t answer the phone, a third of them said they were good for that day and the last third said they would love to take 15 sandwiches.” She remembers thinking that “It shouldn’t be this hard to do something good. It’s so frustrating and so difficult to find the people that need the food.”
To address this problem and make food donation easier and more efficient than standard food donation initiatives found in many localities, Ahmad started Feeding Forward. When a company or event planner has extra food, all they need to do is use the Feeding Forward app or website to provide details of the donation and a volunteer driver is sent to deliver the food to food banks or shelters based on those organization’s current needs. These donated meals are also often much more nutritious than organizations could provide on their own: Eric Venable, San Francisco City Director of City Team, says “They are giving us very high-quality food….With this really good donated food, there’s more protein. That just really helps those who are eating one, maybe two meals a day.” And, as in most big cities, a tremendous amount of food goes to waste in the San Francisco Bay area. After one food conference featuring celebrity chefs, Feeding Forward received over 5,000 pounds of food donations, which fed over 4,200 people in eight different shelters and food banks and diverted more than 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from landfills.
Feeding Forward already operates in six cities in Northern California, with a 99% pickup rate and over 780,000 pounds of food donated so far. According to Maen Mahfoud, the group’s Head of Internal Operations, there are plenty of opportunities for expansion: “We’ve gotten more than 6,000 requests from people who want to expand nationally and around the world – from Brussels to Israel to Berlin to France.” Ahmad says that’s exactly what she wants to see. “Just like you can hail an Uber, you should be able to donate your food in minutes. My dream was never for this to be just nascent here.” After all, she observes, “These are huge cities that have absurd amounts of food thrown away every day. We are trying to make the Bay Area a case study to say ‘Hey, if it works here, it can work anywhere.'”
You can learn more about Feeding Forward — or sign up to help out as a volunteer food delivery driver — on their website at https://www.feedingforward.com/ or in a recent People profile at http://bit.ly/1FjGcQh
For a heartwarming new book that addresses an issue kids rarely hear about — hunger in their local community and how they can help — we highly recommend “Maddi’s Fridge” for ages 4 to 8 at http://www.amightygirl.com/maddi-s-fridge
For more books for children and teens that explore different aspects of hardship in local communities in sensitive and compassionate ways, check out our blog post, “Cultivating Compassion: 15 Books About Financial Hardship Close to Home,” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog/?p=10049
And, if you’d like to encourage your Mighty Girl’s interest in programming — and help her discover how she can use technology to change the world — check out the recommendations in our blog post, “Wrapped up in Science: Top 40 Science Toys for Mighty Girls” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=10528