Gloria Maxx: “Second Harvest embodies goodness and humanity for me.”

Gloria Maxx: “Second Harvest embodies goodness and humanity for me.”

It’s 7 a.m. and Gloria Maxx has already lost count of how many tomatoes and cucumbers she’s sliced. She’s on her last case now, and once the vegetables are prepped, she will join other volunteers in assembling and packing hundreds of sandwiches. These will then go into lunch bags for children in 22 summer camps across the city as part of Second Harvest’s annual Feeding Our Future program. Volunteers for morning shifts are the hardest to fill, but Gloria never misses hers. “Second Harvest embodies goodness and humanity for me,” she says.   

Over the past year, Gloria has become a familiar face among Second Harvest’s supporters. She’s helped out at Toronto Taste (now The Rescue Party) and the annual Truck Pull Challenge, as well as promoted awareness for Second Harvest and food rescue at independent community events. She’s also painted a welcome sign that greets guests when they enter the Second Harvest office. Walk by any desk at Second Harvest and there’s a good chance you’ll see artwork she’s made for staff.  

Gloria’s connection with Second Harvest goes back to 2019. After an entrepreneurial attempt in San Francisco, she found herself homeless in Toronto. During this time, she accessed social service organizations that received rescued food from Second Harvest. 

An avid home cook, Gloria volunteered to make dinner for the residents at Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services – where she was staying at this time. Wednesday was the best day of the week, because that’s when Second Harvest delivered fresh food. She was thrilled to see the fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and protein. “I fell in love with that food, because I was able to cook and make other people happy,” Gloria says with a smile. Fast forward to today and Gloria has regained her footing, is a champion for causes, continues to launch unique business ventures and has become a regular volunteer at Second Harvest. 

As a volunteer, you don’t just get to give back. You learn.

“I know what it’s like to worry about meals,” she said, “I know what it’s like to not realize your potential because your everyday needs, like food and shelter, are not met.” 

 “As a volunteer, you don’t just get to give back. You learn,” she said.  

At the inaugural Food Rescue Awards in February, Gloria was nominated for the Essential Harvester Award, which celebrates individuals that have demonstrated dedication to our mission through volunteering support. The nomination came as a surprise but meant so much to her. “The reason I can continue with my own projects is because of that love I’ve gotten from Second Harvest,” she said. “I’ve gotten so much from volunteering. It’s made me want to give back even more.” 

Gloria has big plans for the future. She’s been brewing the idea of a culinary social enterprise since her time at Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services, cooking with Second Harvest’s food. Once her venture ShelterCHEF gets off the ground, she plans to donate a portion of the profits to Second Harvest. 

Building a safe space for kids to learn, grow and have fun

Building a safe space for kids to learn, grow and have fun

UrbanPromise Toronto is a non-profit organization that has been supporting youth, kids and families in Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) neighbourhoods since 1998. They offer year-round activities after school and during March break, as well as summer camps in two communities in Scarborough (Camp Truth and Camp Hope) and one in Etobicoke (Camp Victory). UrbanPromise is a partner of Second Harvest’s Feeding Our Future program. 

Feeding Our Future provides lunch to free or subsidized summer camps across Toronto between July and August every year. The goal is to ensure that all children, especially those who rely on school food programming, have adequate access to nutritious meals during the summer months. Food insecurity is a pressing issue that’s closely connected to physical, mental and social well-being. According to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, children growing up in food-insecure households are more likely to use support services for mental health or substance abuse.  

This year Feeding Our Future’s partners include Cadillac Fairview, Sofina Foods, Cummins, Air Miles, the Marner Assist Foundation, GreenShield Cares and Instacart. Working with our volunteers, we aim to pack and deliver about 40,000 lunches to over 1,500 campers. Each pack contains a meat or vegetarian sandwich, fruits, snacks and juices. The menu changes daily but stays consistent week over week.  

A big part of the menu decision-making process is trying to work with ingredients that aren’t common allergens or dietary restrictions for different religious beliefs (for example, we use roast beef and turkey instead of pork). Lunches also include fresh fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumber in the sandwiches or “produce snack” (either an orange, an apple, or a pack of baby carrots).  

Fruits are popular among UrbanPromise’s 120 summer campers, whose ages range between 4 and 19 years old. Kids from 4 to 9 engage in crafts and sports (basketball and baseball). They also go on field trips to the ROM and Ontario Science Centre (in partnership with Kids Up Front), as well as have splash pad and indoor playground days. Meanwhile, high school-aged youth are coached in leadership. 

“What we’re trying to push for is just creating a safe space for kids to have a community to grow academically and socially with their peers,” Jeffrey Ng, Ministry Supervisor at Camp Truth, said. 

Ng has been with the organization for five and a half years, overseeing administration and mentoring youth. Many kids he worked with have become better at regulating their emotions, turning negative attention-seeking behaviour into appreciation and gratitude in their everyday life. “It’s the most impactful experience that I can always recall,” he said. 

Indeed, 92% of parents and caregivers of children who participated in UrbanPromise’s programs have seen growth in their children’s communications and interactions with others, while 69% said their academic learning and work habits improved.  

“It’s been a blessing to see that transformation and that there is a positive impact with [UrbanPromise] just being present in the neighbourhood,” Ng shared.  

According to Ng, by showing genuine care and providing a judgement-free zone to explore different opportunities, UrbanPromise aims to break the poverty cycle and improve the outlook for many summer campers. 

The ultimate goal, Ng said, is to allow them to “live with hope and freedom”.

Changing lives, one meal at a time

Changing lives, one meal at a time

What does it take to turn your life around? 

Kevin Bralovich believes having a good meal is part and parcel of having a good life, especially if you are starting a new, heathier chapter of life.  

Bralovich is the Executive Director of The Helm Center in Glen Haven, Nova Scotia, a non-profit that offers addictions recovery program for men, to help them find restoration, purpose and direction. Often men arrive at the centre malnourished. They first need to get healthy before they can get better. 

The Helm Center works closely with Tiffany Wagner, front end assistant manager at Sobeys Timberlea to receive rescued food and turn it into fresh nutritious meals for residents. The Helm Center is one of our network of 3,400 non-profits and 5,600 food donors connecting on The Second Harvest Food Rescue App. 

Redirecting good surplus food helps to nourish people in need while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. It also cultivates community spirit and a deeper connection among partners. As a champion for food rescue at the Timberlea Sobeys store, Wagner thinks it’s important to make a personal connection with those supported by the partnership: “You really want them to know that you’re doing this for them,” Wagner said. 

Sobeys is one of Second Harvest’s largest food donors and the winner of our first Partner of the Year Award. The company is making significant progress towards its goal to reduce food waste in operations by 50 per cent by 2025. Between May 2022 and May 2023, we worked with 728 participating Sobeys stores on the food rescue app to redirect 23 million pounds of good surplus food to 960 non-profits across Canada. That is an equivalent of nearly 73 million pounds of greenhouse gases averted from entering the atmosphere, or the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the road for one year.  

Notably, more than half of this donation is fresh produce, meat, and protein, much-needed items for many non-profits and could also have the most significant environmental impact if it ended up in landfills. Nourishing people is not as simple as providing them with calories, but with nutrition-dense food that allows them to live a healthy life which enables them to make meaningful changes. At The Helm Center, a warm nutritious meal is the beginning of healing journey.  

“You see guys come in angry and upset, broken and hurt, and then all of a sudden, over the course of weeks and months, you see light in their eyes. You see hope and future. It’s a special thing to watch,” Bralovich said. “If I could be a part of changing just even one person’s life, it’s worth every second.”  

On behalf of our non-profit partners and the communities that we serve, thank you to Sobeys, for your continued support and dedication to reducing the social and environmental impact of food waste.  

Still Good to Eat turns small actions into big impact

Still Good to Eat turns small actions into big impact

Gamification is everywhere in 2023, from online experiences to in-store activations. Leveraging this powerful tool to engage and inspire positive changes, Second Harvest and Enable Education launch Still Good to Eat, a web-based interactive game that aims to tackle food waste at a household level and help you save on groceries.

What is Still Good to Eat?

In Still Good to Eat, players shop for common household foods (pantry staples, fresh produce, meat, dairy, etc.) and go through stages that correspond to their life cycle: after purchase, after processing (washed, sliced, cut) and as leftovers. To advance, you’ll make storage decisions and do freshness checks on these products, which will save or cost you money depending on your choices. You can also receive “reward points” to unlock more food storage tips at the end of the game.

The game will be released to our non-profit partners to improve their knowledge of food storage and handling and share it with their communities. We look forward to their feedback to understand how Still Good to Eat can be used as a learning tool that supports food waste reduction on a larger scale.

“We’re very excited to launch Still Good to Eat because it’s something that has never been done before,” Krish Thayalan, Manager, Training and Education at Second Harvest, said, “Using gamification to improve engagement and learning outcomes, the game directly benefits players looking to reduce food costs as well as their environmental footprint.”

Learning and development solutions provider, Enable Education, is a passionate advocate of socially focused projects and on a mission to revolutionize learning. We’re grateful for this partnership that combines their expertise and our in-house training content to offer a deeper dive into what you can explore in workshops like Understanding Food Date Labels and Store It Right. It’s targeted primarily to home cooks and food buyers in community kitchens but also suitable for children at grade levels 7 and up.

“Collaborating with Second Harvest on a game-based learning project about food waste reduction and proper storage was truly special!” Ben Zimmer, CEO of Enable Education, said. “We transformed everyday knowledge into a fun, interactive, and engaging experience. Still Good to Eat is educational and experiential, and this unique endeavour earned us a silver medal from the International eLearning Association. We couldn’t be prouder of this collaboration and the results!”

Gamification and its benefits  

Gamification is the application of game design elements such as points, badges and leaderboards in non-game contexts. Over the past few years, it has been used more prominently in business, fitness, education and other domains.  

Studies have shown that students perceive gamified opportunities to be more conducive to learning than others. Particularly, gamification elements turn quotidian tasks (such as sorting and storing groceries) into more interesting ones. By showing players the outcome of their decisions instantaneously, Still Good to Eat helps them retain information about food product lifespan and storage practices more deeply and for a longer period of time.  

“Each small decision we make around storing or processing food yields collective impact,” Thayalan said, “Knowledge is power, and by leveraging what we know around proper food storage and handling, we can all save on food costs while also protecting the environment.” 

Play Still Good to Eat on your computer!

Amplifying Community Actions Through the Second Harvest Food Rescue App

Amplifying Community Actions Through the Second Harvest Food Rescue App

Emily manages a mental health transitional housing building in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She uses the Second Harvest Food Rescue App to secure recurring donations of surplus food from local businesses. The breakfast sandwiches and pastries are usually a huge hit among residents. 

“It can be easy to overlook how important having a good meal is, as it’s something many of us take for granted,” Emily said. “I’m grateful for this program and that I am able to participate in allowing our residents easy access to healthy food.”

Food waste poses both social and environmental challenges. Nearly 60 percent of food produced in Canada is lost or wasted annually. This sends 56.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions into the atmosphere. Globally, food waste is responsible for 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Too often, good surplus food ends up in landfills. Just a quarter of that wasted food could feed 795 million undernourished people in the world. 

Technology’s potential to help 

Second Harvest worked with software company Redbit to develop the Food Rescue App in 2018. The app connects businesses with surplus food to non-profits in their local communities. The aim is to bridge the gap between abundance and need while protecting our planet from the damaging effects of food waste. 

The app has come a long way since its early days as a web platform. Starting with a pilot project involving five communities in Ontario, it expanded to British Columbia in 2019. The plan for a full national launch by 2022 accelerated as the pandemic hit. The app now serves more than 1,000 communities, covering every province and territory.

Last year, the app connected 5,600 food donors with 3,400 non-profits. This facilitated the rescue of 24 million pounds of surplus edible food. That is the equivalent of 79.3 million pounds of greenhouse gases averted and 13.2 billion litres of water prevented from going to waste.

Second Harvest is grateful for partners like the RBC Foundation that share our vision and willingness to embrace technology to preserve our planet. The three-year RBC Tech for Nature commitment has allowed us to grow a community of supporters wanting to make a positive change. This is one of the three key areas in their donation approach. 

“Climate change and the issues we’re facing connect us all as we work to build a better future,” said Mark Beckles, Vice-President, Social Impact & Innovation at RBC. “Through RBC Tech for Nature and our partnership, we are committed to bringing the power of innovative technologies to address and scale solutions to face this crisis together.”

Behind the scenes: Constant innovation 

A cross-functional Product team of 10 oversees the building, maintenance and standards of the Second Harvest Food Rescue App. They handle daily operations and technical issues, of course. But they also monitor feedback from donors and non-profits to improve or develop new features for a seamless user experience. For example, they recently added a feature that allows donors to edit recurring donations. This creates more accurate data tracking and better coordination with non-profits. 

“As someone who’s been involved with the app since its early days, it’s beyond exciting to see it expand,” said Veronica Summerhill, Director of Product. “When we started, the software and its functionality looked so different than it does now. This speaks to how open Second Harvest is to growth, change and improvements. We empathize with our users and are deeply committed to ensuring food gets rescued. It’s expensive to improve technology. But we know the investment is important when it means our users are more engaged and therefore more food gets rescued.”

The Second Harvest Food Rescue App allows both donors and non-profits to fight food insecurity and climate change. Every pound of food rescued makes a difference.