In 1990, one woman, determined to help the St. Francis Soup Kitchen in Jacksonville feed all who sought lunch there, asked her neighborhood grocery to donate any bread approaching its “sell-by” date rather than throwing it away. From Debra Smyers’ idea to fight hunger by minimizing waste, Waste Not Want Not was born. Over the years, Waste Not has grown from a one-person initiative into a thriving charity with two employees and more than 200 volunteers rescuing and distributing food to 2,200 people struggling to put food on the table every day.
Waste Not, already had substantial operations when friends of Waste Not chose to transform what was still a group of volunteers into an independent, tax-exempt non-profit corporation in late 2004. After Waste Not’s incorporation, the board and numerous volunteers began to promote our mission and increase our visibility with the goals of identifying additional people in need, locating new sources of food, recruiting more volunteers, and soliciting financial support. By the end of 2005, Waste Not volunteers were rescuing food 362 days a year, every day except Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.
Waste Not Want Not’s success in rescuing more food over the next few years resulted in both a benefit and a challenge. Waste Not’s growth enabled us to provide more food to existing recipient organizations, many of which experienced a 50-70% increase in demand during the Great Recession, and we were also able to add many new groups to our weekly schedule during this time. However, our growth resulted in the need for a larger building, so, in 2008, the Board searched for and located a new facility large enough for our immediate needs and anticipated short-term growth (on a property large enough to accommodate additional buildings for future long-term growth). Once Waste Not purchased the property, our volunteers remodeled the building and relocated the business without missing a day of distributing food.
In 2009, our first full year in our Carnes Street building, Waste Not Want Not rescued 750,000 pounds of food, a 21% increase over 2008 thanks to several vendors that began donating large quantities of food at a time. These larger donations were initially rescued in pickup trucks with trailers, but we decided for safety and efficiency sake to lease a truck in 2010. That year, our 20th anniversary, was the first time our volunteers rescued more than one million pounds in a single year.
Within three years of relocating, Waste Not volunteers doubled the amount of food we provided to those in need, rescuing 1.5 million pounds of wholesome, surplus food in 2012. That year, thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, we were able to purchase our truck and brand it with our logo and contact information. Three days later, we received a call from a manager of a national beverage distributor who had seen the truck, inquiring if we would be interested in rescuing beverages which we have been doing ever since.
Waste Not Want Not continues to grow, attempting to rescue all unmarketable, but still wholesome food that can be used to fight hunger and poverty in our community. Our volunteers rescue food seven days a week* making over 140 scheduled stops weekly. They use their own vehicles to rescue from stores, cafes, and restaurants, and our truck to rescue from warehouses. We also respond to calls from long-haul truckers with refused loads of food, coordinating recipients to receive food directly from the trucks. Donations range from a few muffins to 4,500 baked items to 8,000 pounds of drinks or 20,000 pounds of potatoes. Waste Not puts all this food, 44,230 pounds a week, where it belongs – in bellies, not in landfills. In 2017, we rescued 2.2 million pounds in a single year for the first time. Last year, Waste Not volunteers provided 2.3 million pounds of food and drink to those in need in North Florida, working with over 100 charities in ten local counties.
*Hurricane Matthew interrupted business as usual at Waste Not Want Not in 2016 for the first time ever. For the safety of all involved, we closed for a day. Waste Not also closed for one day due to Hurricane Irma in 2017, and reopened the following day, even before our electricity was restored.