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Aug 17

Creative Surplus Food Re-distribution in Northern Virginia & Overseas - NVRC Staff

Posted on August 17, 2020 at 8:14 AM by Bob Lazaro

Picture of food in containersThe COVID-19 pandemic has intensified food insecurity throughout Northern Virginia.  In July, the Capital Area Food Bank reported that as many as 415,000 people across the metropolitan Washington DC region currently lack consistent access to meals – approximately 100,000 alone in Northern Virginia.   Rising unemployment combined with the massive disruptions to the operations of food relief operations and food pantries threaten the sick, elderly and marginalized populations in ways not seen in generations. 

But creative approaches that address Northern Virginia’s “food deserts” are emerging, especially those that focus on food waste mitigation through improved surplus food distribution.  For example,  Reston’s “Embry Rucker Community Shelter” is tying into the region’s gig-economy roots through the deployment of an app developed by “Food Rescue” to match its needs with available surplus foods provided by restaurants, grocers, farmers’ markets and other local businesses.  Information from the app then is used by volunteers who collect and deliver the foods and meals to the Reston shelter. 

In Fairfax County, “Food for Others” collects surplus foods via food rescue operations and food drives. Staff and volunteers collect surplus foods from local grocery stores and retail food establishments, transport it to warehouses for temporary storage and ultimately distribution to families in need across the region. Next door, the Arlington Food Assistance Center operates extensive food recovery and education programs that include farm gleaning and retrieving unneeded fresh produce from Farmers Markets, places of worship, households and other gardens to access and distribute fresh produce free of charge to those in need.   Moreover, the Society of St. Andrew “End Hunger” program works with in this region and the Shenandoah Valley with volunteers who glean unmarketable fruits and vegetables from commercial farms and food distributers and distributes them to food pantries and food assistance organizations.  In 2019, their national “Gleaning Network” collected and distributed 13,025,551 pounds of fresh produce collected by 23,286 volunteers from farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest.

Creative approaches to addressing food deserts through surplus food distribution are also to be found across the Atlantic in cities such as Berlin and Stuttgart.  For example, the German grocery retailer Lidl, whose North American headquarters is based in Arlington County, rolled out in 2019 an anti-food waste strategy for its 3,200 stores in Germany.  Food products that are close to their date of expiration are collected, sorted and discounted 50 percent.  The foods, which include dairy, fresh produce, baked goods, frozen and dry goods, are boxed and labeled “I’m Still Good” and placed in green cardboard boxes near the store entrances.   Trials at stores across Germany point to double digit reductions in food waste. 

In Berlin, there is a growing use of the online platform and application “”.  The app also links grocers, bakers and other food suppliers (or when food is served at large gatherings) with volunteers and residents willing to share and re-use edible and safe surplus foods. has approximately 35,000 active users and 7,000 partner organizations across Germany who have helped save and safely re-use approximately 70 million pounds of food.

The Northern Virginia region is among the wealthiest and most highly educated regions of the United States.  That there are such high levels of food insecurity here paints a grimmer image in other regions across the United States. As our region navigates its way through the food desert by strengthening surplus food distribution efforts and learning from the work of Berlin or Stuttgart, it stands to serve as a national and global model.

Relevant links:

National Capital Area Foodbank “Hunger Report 2020

Food for Others

Food Rescue

Society of St. Andrew “End Hunger”

National Gleaning Project


Prince William County Food Rescue

For other food recovery projects in Northern Virginia, dial 2-1-1 to speak to a trained Information and Referral Specialist about hunger resources in your neighborhood. 

Blog post authored by: Tylee Smith, Debbie Spiliotopoulos & Dale Medearis