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Waste Not Food Taxi mobilizes volunteer drivers via NextDoor and Facebook to transport food leftovers to the hungry

COURTESY: SUSIE SNORTUM - More than a thousand volunteers connect on social media to pick up donations of food as well as paper goods across the metro area to put in the hands of the grassroots network known as Free Hot Soup, which feeds the homeless downtown.  Give Susie Snortum a computer and some food, and she just may change the world.

The Portland food activist — a former office manager, chef and caterer — runs a nonprofit called Waste Not Food Taxi that is transforming the way local schools and businesses handle their uneaten food scraps.

Using social media sites like Facebook and NextDoor, the project invites any driver to pick up edible leftovers and deliver them to a hunger-relief agency. They give a second life to everything from sushi to salad bar offerings, which in some cases would be composted but more often tossed in the trash.

After volunteers pick up the food on weekly routes, one grassroots group called Free Hot Soup PDX then turns rescued food — everything from fresh and frozen veggies to gourmet cupcakes — into nutritious soup and meals for the hungry on Portland's streets. Other leftovers are delivered to emergency food pantries and homeless shelters.

COURTESY: SUSIE SNORTUM - Susie Snortum and her husband, Knute Snortum, find joy in serving the community. They've made Portland their home since moving from the Bay Area in 2006. "People often look at the enormous problems humanity is facing and wonder what one small individual can do," says Snortum, who moved to Portland from the Bay Area in 2006. "This is an easy opportunity to do something."

Several Portland suburbs and Metro are stepping up recycling of food scraps, and Metro is commissioning an anaerobic digester in Portland or Wilsonville to convert the region's food scraps into renewable energy.

COURTESY: SUSIE SNORTUM - Free Hot Soup cooks prepare about 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day with donated food, and also make hot entrees with whatevers on hand, like casseroles with turkey bacon. Waste Not Food Taxi is connecting the dots between food waste and hunger.

Snortum launched her effort in January 2016, and soon after was immediately invited to revamp the Fork It Over program in Beaverton schools, which had fallen dormant. Food donations from Beaverton schools reached record volumes between January and June 2016, at more than a ton of food picked up each week. Now all Beaverton schools participate, and she's in talks with Portland Public Schools about starting pickups districtwide there.

COURTESY: SUSIE SNORTUM - A bulging cardboard box shows the enormous amount of edible food that would have been thrown away by a downtown grocery store. An employee contacted Waste Not Food Taxi to have it picked up and donated instead. Funded through private donations, Snortum is looking for donors and grants to help establish a mobile free food truck and mobile emergency pantry to reach those who aren't currently served. She'd also like funds to participate in other local hunger-relief organizations for a more formal distribution network.

COURTESY: SUSIE SNORTUM - A load of donated bread from Bales Thriftway in Beaverton gets packed into a volunteer's van for distribution to those who need it. 
We caught up with Snortum to ask about her motivation and work:

Sustainable Life: How did the idea for Waste Not Food Taxi come about?

Snortum: I've volunteered to feed folks in need my whole life. When the food waste problem started hitting the news, I realized this was an opportunity to rescue two birds with one truck. There isn't a food shortage, only a logistics problem.

The epiphany, though, has been that the quality I have to contribute isn't my cooking skill, but my enthusiasm for facilitating and problem solving. I've finally found a use for my love of puzzles.

We caught up with Snortum to ask about her motivation and work:

Sustainable Life: What do you see as the simplest action individuals and families can make toward helping reduce food waste or feed the hungry in their own lives?

Snortum: The first step is knowledge. Just as there was a learning period for our whole society when we started recycling aluminum and paper, then the development of awareness of our carbon footprint, now we know so much more about the impact of food waste on our environment.

We've learned that 25 percent of our landfills are food, and that the food, denied oxygen, produces methane gas, 30 times more damaging than carbon emissions. I expect food waste in landfills to become obsolete within a decade.

The first steps at home are becoming aware and changing our habits. How often do we purchase produce that spoils before we use it? Do we need to plan our meals better? What foods can we buy that aren't in wasteful packages? Are we using our own bags when we shop? Do we have a bag in the freezer for meat and vegetable scraps to put in the next pot of soup broth?

Sustainable Life: How do you keep your optimism in the face of so much bad news and bureaucracy every day?

Snortum: I suffered from morbid depression as a teen and young adult. I worked very hard to focus on the positive. Later I did some formal mindfulness training (which involves taking the value judgment out of our observations, then choosing how to handle factual information).

Irresponsible political actions, for example, don't have to result in fear, anger and a sense of helplessness. They can result in increased activism and encouraging more good citizens to run for office. Bringing positive energy to this project and all areas of my life is very important to me and has proven to be effective many times over. It requires discipline, but results in my feeling blessed, strong and optimistic at every turn.

@jenmomanderson

How to help

• Donate via PayPal to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

• Donate via Square Cash to $SusanSnortum

• Find Waste Not Food Taxi on Facebook

• Call 503-806-5230 to make a donation by phone.

• Check out WasteNotFoodTaxi.org for ways to volunteer and more info.

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