Transfernation Tackles Food Waste and Hunger with a Local, On-Demand Twist
In New York City each week, up to 1,000 lbs. of food is rescued from lavish events, office functions, and charity fundraisers. Instead of being discarded, the extra food finds its way to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other service organizations through Transfernation, a New York City-based nonprofit that’s at the forefront of innovation within the food rescue movement. Transfernation enables corporations to connect with local organizations and create productive relationships to transfer surplus food from events and daily operations that would otherwise go to waste.
The food rescue effort fits squarely into the on-demand economy: The company has devised a tech platform that matches companies that have excess food with organizations in need. The online matching platform is about to go mobile as Transfernation prepares to launch a mobile app in partnership with SocialEffort, a volunteer coordination and analytics platform. SocialEffort’s platform and data analytics offerings will help Transfernation grow and become more efficient.
The way the app works is if an organization or a company has an event, it can either text Transfernation or go into the app and indicate that it has a pickup. The information is entered into a database, the app checks volunteers’ availability, and the volunteers click “yes” or “no.” Using push notifications, the app sends volunteers directions to the venue, instructions on what to do once they’re are onsite, checks them in, and then checks them out when they leave.
The brainchild of Samir Goel, 21, and Hannah Dehradunwala, 22, both seniors at New York University (NYU), the idea and business plan for Transfernation was hatched in 2013. Goel and Dehradunwala officially launched the company in 2014 and received the company’s 501(c) 3 status this year, which made Transfernation a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. The company has received funding from The Resolution Project in conjunction with The Clinton Global Initiative, The Dalai Lama Foundation, and NYU. It has also raised funds through an Indiegogo campaign to develop its website and app. Since 2013, Transfernation has raised more than $20,000 online and through grants.
The organization maintains an online network of corporate food donors, more than 20 soup kitchens and shelters, and nearly 150 volunteers to enable a systematic mechanism for food redistribution. AppNexus, Indeed, Hale & Hearty, Whole Foods, and Instacart, Fooda, and Cater2.me are among the dozens of companies that have regular pickups for Transfernation. Food from The Resolution Project’s galas has also been donated.
“We’re both very passionate about food waste and hunger — the issues really resonated with us,” Goel said. The pair began researching the issue of food disparity around the world — Goel had been to India and Dehradunwala spent part of her youth in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where she witnessed extreme poverty.
Apart from being a small business and tech platform that bridges an information and resource gap to ensure extra food goes to places that need it, Transfernation actively seeks to promote a cultural shift in how human beings perceive “extra.” “The amount of food that’s wasted at corporate events is absolutely ridiculous,” Dehradunwala added.
The original idea was that companies would input their events online and register for pickups, but that system became cumbersome, hence the need for an app. “The app is a way for us to grow and become more efficient,” Goel said. Most of the food pickups are manual, meaning the food is picked up by volunteers. Typically the sites are within a few blocks of the soup kitchens and shelters. Often, the companies or shelters offer vans to help with pickups, although sometimes taxis are involved (volunteers are reimbursed). Transfernation has expressed interest in working with Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit to execute more efficient food rescue.
“Our mission is to make giving food as easy as throwing it away,” Goel said. “We want this to be instantaneous, to remove the friction and make it seamless.” Although he conceded that food overage can be unpredictable, Transfernation tries to get the best estimate from caterers on how much overage there is. “We try to find the alignment. We provide a really easy mechanism and an end-to-end solution.”
Transfernation does a lot of pickups after lunches and evening affairs. The food has ranged from sushi to pizza. There’s no booze allowed. The organization isn’t liable: A goodwill donor of food is protected from liability as long as the food is not knowingly unfit for human consumption under New York state law and the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.
The goal for Transfernation, according to its founders, is to become self-sustaining. Its new focus is to raise as much as $250,000. Goel and Dehradunwala believe the model is scalable to other cities, and perhaps even globally. In fact, the pair piloted the company in Pakistan in 2014.
For Goel and Dehradunwala the connection with the on-demand and hyperlocal economy is simple: “Transfernation creates small networks of corporate and social partners to provide services that benefit both. To keep up with the on-demand economy, we’ve tailored our service to be instantaneous and logistically carried out in a way that can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of both our corporate and social partners,” explained Dehradunwala.
Tobi Elkin is a business journalist and editor who combines reporting on digital marketing, media, and technology trends with an interest in personal stories and profiles. She’s interviewed hundreds of senior executives and entrepreneurs, and written for AOL, the Associated Press, CMO.com, eMarketer, Narratively, The Lo-Down, and The Huffington Post. Find her online at www.tobielkin.com.