Transfernation

By: Samir Goel

Environment , Techie

Forty percent of all food produced in America goes uneaten. Said otherwise, more than twenty pounds of food per person is wasted every month. If we were able to redistribute that food we would have more than enough to end hunger in America.

Everytime we eat at an event, a restaurant, a cafeteria, or even at home, we’re collectively scraping BILLIONS of pounds of food waste into the trash. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, "Food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent — or 133 billion pounds — of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers, and has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation, and climate change."

By reducing food losses by just fifteen percent, experts project we would be able to provide enough food for more than 25-million Americans every year! Essentially we could combat hunger by eliminating waste culture and utilizing what we already have instead of investing in what we can't afford.

The challenge is, there are barriers to food recovery. Despite the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, which protects donors from food-safety liability when donating to a nonprofit organization, many companies fear negative publicity if donated food causes illness.

Further, since the organizations serving the homeless and hungry often don’t have their own transportation infrastructure to successfully handle greater quantities of perishable food donations, there are distribution and storage logistic concerns. 

Read about how our solution alleviates hunger by eliminating waste culture and enabling the transfer of food from those with extra to those in need.

Transfernation aims to tackle the challenges of food waste, hunger, and food disparity by solving the major logistical hurdles that currently prevents excess food from going to the communities that need. By rescuing the food leftover from corporate and other events of scale, we are able to provide the shelter system and its constituents with high quality food with no cost to their annual budget. We see this as a simple way to solve multiple problems we are faced with and simultaneously build a more sustainable system for the long run which reduces food production needs and landfill. 

Transfernation works on the basis of two online platforms: a website and a smartphone app, that connect those with extra food to those who need it. In order to quickly scale, we used SocialEffort, a volunteer coordination and analytics platform, to provide us with major efficiency gains.

Like “Uber for food rescue,” event hosts use the app to post details and put the event, and volunteers are sourced “real-time” based on location, availability and interests. The Transfernation app has geofencing so it checks volunteers in when they arrive for food pickup, checks them in to the homeless shelter [or other beneficiary], provides last-minute instructions, and allows the corporate donors to be aware of what’s happening. Our service also informs the recipient how long the food has been out, and then that organization determines if it can distribute it right away or safely store it.

Transfernation was incorporated as a 510(c)3 non-profit and has rescued over 15,000 pounds of food in the Manhattan area. With the aid of the Jefferson Awards Foundation, we calculated that to be approximately 9,375 lives impacted. We also calculated our average pounds per pickup to be 57 pounds and then used this to calculate our cost of feeding an individual per day which on average is 75 cents. While we are excited about that number we believe we can get it to below 20 cents to feed someone for a day through economies of scale geared toward social return. this would enable us to feed someone for a year for between 36 to 50 dollars.

Companies interested in partnering with Transfernation can begin the process by downloading the app SocialEffort and making a ‘Facilitator’ account. People interested in volunteering with Transfernation can download our app here.

Team Members

  • Samir and Hannah met their freshmen year of college at NYU. They started Transfernation their sophomore year as their first significant foray into the world of social entrepreneurship. Since then they've both catapulted further into this field from both Transfernation and their other startup venture and work experiences.

Impact

Advice for our peers

“WHY” + “HOW” = “CHANGE”: In many ways, hunger is a man-made problem. While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, we believe that each of us has a role to play in solving this challenge. Our theory of change lies in the belief that there is not a need for a greater production of food resources, but instead a need for redistribution and sustainable allocation of existing supplies. 

QUANTIFY THE NEED IN NUMBERS: Hunger and food waste is a global problem. But to get our local community to care, we speak about the 2.6-million New Yorkers who have trouble affording food juxtaposed against the half-million tons of food wasted by New York City restaurants each year. These numbers are important in shaping the value of what Transformation is offering.

BE MISSION-DRIVEN, BUT KNOW YOUR NICHE: Most non-profits and profit-for-purpose companies were formed to solve some big problems. As a result, it can be hard not to look “lofty” in your solution’s approach. Currently, Transfernation is the only organization which primarily focuses on food waste from EVENTS and one of the first organizations to implement a technology based solution to these challenges. By focusing on these two niches we believe we can create a system which works for both sectors to consistently and sustainably get excess food to underserved communities.

USE SOCIAL MEDIA: Social media has been an important facet of growth for our organization especially in our early stages. It was one of the tools we used to get our organization and work out to a greater audience and build our "customer" base. This proof of concept and support was important as we worked to raise funding and bring on valuable partners and sponsors. However, it is not an integral part of our organizations day-to-day work and we try to focus more on our operations and growth then our social media presence. This is because with limited resources, staff and time we choose to focus on driving impact and creating the most sustainable organization possible. Social media is an incredible tool but there is a misconception that its an automatic miracle worker for organizations and it reality to be successful you have to put in a substantial amount of time. Today our primary goals with social media are to engage with our supporters and provide updates on our progress. However, the moment we turn more towards marketing and fundraising social media becomes a larger part of our day to day work.

WORK WITHIN A BUDGET: Our annual budget is currently around 50,000 but we’re looking to increase it substantially to bring on more full time staff and improve our operations. We hope to generate enough revenue to cover our operating expenses and then leverage donations for new programs, expansions, and bringing on new food donors. However, fundraising can be all encompassing and we want to create a model so that the majority of our time and resources go to the mission rather than raising more money. Additionally as a 501(c)3 we get the majority of our income today through grants and donations.

DON’T PUT TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON YOURSELF: The number one lesson we've learned is to put less pressure on ourselves. If you care enough to launch your idea, trust that you'll be able to do what you need too. Working hard and long hours comes with the territory and is going to be necessary (at times) but what isn't helping you is stressing yourself out.  You need to be able to balance seeking and using advice. It's always good to get input from others especially your customers and partners but its also important to be able to stick to your vision and not feel compelled to act on everything you hear. It's a fine line to balance the two of them.


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