Fifteen years ago, Nancy Beyda was a student at a small yoga studio in Los Angeles. Like many small business owners, the studio owner wanted to support the local community. In this case, the owner wanted to donate excess food to a local women’s shelter.
Together, Nancy and the owner worked with a local grocery store to pick up excess food and deliver it to the shelter. Word spread, and demand grew. That was the beginning of Nancy’s awakening to the fact that many people in her neighborhood were going to bed hungry each night.
“I was shocked. It was eye-opening. I realized what a big need there was, and we had to do better,” Nancy said. She approached businesses, restaurants, and grocery stores for surplus food that could be donated and used immediately by those in need.
More volunteers were recruited to meet demand. In 2014, the entity that would become FoodCycle LA was launched as a California non-profit 501(c)3 organization, with Nancy as Executive Director. The organization was able to grow and network through collaboration with other food programs, such as the LA Food Council.
Enter Athens Services
The networking led to connecting with Athens Services Sustainability and Zero Waste Programs Director Jessica Aldridge. Jessica has spearheaded Athens’ food recovery efforts in LA and other cities for several years.
In 2017, the City of Los Angeles formed recycLA, its first recycling franchise system. Athens is the service provider for FoodCycle LA. After working with the organization, Jessica secured funding from Athens for delivery vans and drivers.
“This helped us set up an infrastructure to collect and distribute food,” Nancy said. “Before, our program was all-volunteer, with no funding.”
In addition to funding transportation efforts, Athens’ Recycling Coordinators worked with FoodCycle LA to get the word out to businesses (aka potential food donors). Athens created handouts and online resources to help expand food recovery efforts throughout Los Angeles.
As funding, support, headcount, and donations grew, Nancy began to use online tools like Food Oasis and ChowMatch to connect agencies with surplus food donations. These and other tools have helped FoodCycle set up systems to track donations and record how much food is distributed.
The program was growing and having a real impact in 2019 and into 2020. Then the pandemic hit. As the coronavirus spread, restaurants and related businesses closed. People who needed food were confined to their homes. The pool of volunteers to deliver food shrank drastically. Folks who relied on their children getting lunches at school could no longer depend on that option.
As demand skyrocketed, the vans and drivers made possible by Athens’ funding helped FoodCycle deliver nearly two million meals in 2020 – an increase of 1000% in one year.
“That would not have been possible without the generous funding we received,” Nancy said. “Our organization literally would not exist in the form it does if it had not been for the support of Athens.”
Athens is proud to support food rescue organizations like FoodCycle LA. Together, we can reduce food scarcity and food waste in Los Angeles. Jessica and Nancy discuss the partnership between Athens Services and FoodCycle LA on Instagram at Feed People Not Landfills.
To learn more about FoodCycle LA’s programs or to make a donation, go to foodcyclela.org. For more on what Athens is doing to fight food waste, go to athensservices.com/fooddonation.