Do-Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers: Food For Free

Food For FreeSasha Purpura. Photo courtesy of Food For Free.

The idea that one shouldn’t waste food out of respect for those less fortunate is echoed around millions of dinner tables throughout the country—and it is the foundation of the work done by the Cambridge-based nonprofit Food For Free. 

Food For Free “rescues” food and distributes it to those who need it by partnering with colleges, hospitals, grocery stores, and biotech companies—assuring that any excess food ends up on a plate, rather than in a landfill.

The non-profit was established roughly 30 years ago with the intention of promoting the idea that food is a fundamental right. And not just any food—Food For Free is committed to serving healthy, beautiful, and balanced meals. The small, but still-growing team is headquartered in a house-turned-office space on a residential street, not far from Inman Square. 

“This one room used to be all of Food For Free,” Program Director Fiona Crimmins says while sitting in her long, window-filled office, “but we’re growing.” The organization now occupies the majority of the building, reflecting the increase in staff and programming. 

Some of their popular programs include home delivery, family meals, and the Backpack Program, which feeds over 900 students in Cambridge and Somerville on the weekends. 

Their programs are designed to be accessible to everyone, and the focus is on giving freely rather than waiting for one to ask for help, Crimmins says. 

“We take the asking off the table,” she says. “We do the offering and then folks can just engage with it. Rather than ask people to step up and be vocal about needing help, we present it, and then it’s there as an option.”

Food For Free also provides education about the overwhelming amount of food waste in the country, and operates on the belief that awareness can help downsize the large number of meals thrown away. About 40 percent of the food grown in the country is thrown away, according to Executive Director Sasha Purpura. She was inspired to join Food For Free after receiving an M.B.A. in sustainability. 

“I had fallen in love with food and the importance of it—its ability to create community,” she says. 

It’s the passion of the staff that has helped the organization expand its work. When Purpura joined in 2012, the home delivery program was reaching around 50 individuals a month. Now, that number has more than doubled. Each successful program brings more awareness to the non-profit, which ultimately draws in more volunteers and partners. It all circles back to the creation of a community, Purpura says.

“That’s been the wonderful part of being involved with Food For Free,” she says. “We’re not doing any of this alone.”

Due to the positive reception of some of the early programs, Food For Free is now beginning to shift their focus onto the school systems. Purpura wants to connect with more local families, and similar non-profit groups. At the same time the Backpack Program was released, Food For Free also published a toolkit online that would guide others in replicating the program within their own communities. 

“There’s often barriers to getting food,” she says. “So, when we started serving school markets, 80 percent of the families we were reaching weren’t using other emergency food systems.” 

Food For Free’s mission isn’t simply “solving hunger,” a task that is far too complicated with too many variables for one non-profit to tackle. Rather, the intention is to look after those living in the community. 

“Cambridge and Somerville are small places when you really get down to it,” Crimmins says. “They’re small communities where things are really interconnected. People live and work so close to each other, and I really think doing good means taking care of each other.” 

What Food For Free is doing with their programming is starting a conversation about hunger that involves both those who have suffered from it, and those who want to understand it and provide help. Some of their volunteers relied on the programs when they were young. It’s a cycle, but it is moving in the right direction. 

To learn more about Food For Free, visit foodforfree.org.

This story appears in the March/April print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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