A year ago, at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people impacted by food insecurity skyrocketed. According to Feeding America, the number of Americans classified as food insecure — measured by the availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it — climbed to 45 million in 2020, including 15 million children.
The good news is the organization is predicting a decline in the numbers in 2021, with the food insecure dropping to 42 million people and 13 million children. Still, that is 1 in 8 people and 1 in 6 children, and some 7 million people above 2019’s levels, which was the lowest in 20 years.
One of the main obstacles to solving food insecurity lies in the supply chain. Feed the Children said as much as 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted each year, simply because it can’t get transported to where it is needed. It is a logistical problem that trucking can help solve.
Move For Hunger, a not-for-profit organization, formed 12 years ago to help with that logistical problem. Adam Lowy, executive director and founder, told FreightWaves the need is still there and growing.
“Up until the pandemic started, we were actually starting to see food insecurity rates start to fall,” he said, but COVID changed that. “More than 40% of the people that visited food banks as a result of the pandemic, it was their first time visiting the food bank.”
In the summer of 2020, Move For Hunger asked for help from the trucking industry, hoping to secure donated capacity to move food, and the industry responded. As the need has continued to grow and become more problematic due to the shortage of capacity in the trucking market, Move for Hunger is once again looking for help.
Trucking capacity is still needed, but Lowy said the organization is also looking for refrigerated capacity to help farms and food banks store food for longer periods until it can be shipped to a food bank.
“The demand is still there. Our nation’s pantries and food banks are working on overtime. We are working overtime,” Lowy said, noting the organization is still collecting food but has “had to think about how we captured food differently.”
Lowy said Move For Hunger has already collected 50% more food year to date compared to 2020, when it collected a record 5 million pounds. Conversations with farmers and pantries brought to light the refrigeration problem, he said. Many of these organizations don’t have budgets to handle cold storage, Lowy noted, and lack of staff can hurt collection and delivery of food to people, especially on weekends, which means food not distributed by Friday often goes to waste.
“We’ve talked to food pantries that the only day they are able to get food in is on a Friday and by the time Monday comes around a lot of the food is spoiled because they don’t have the capacity to store it and they don’t have the people to distribute it [on weekends],” Lowy said.
Move For Hunger worked with a single farm and saw the power of a refrigeration unit.
“We talked to one farm in New Jersey and by providing them cold storage, they will be able to provide 200,000 pounds of produce this year that will all be donated to [pantries rather than going to waste],” Lowy said. “If we can keep it cold a little bit longer, we can ultimately extend the life of that food.”
Like it did with large truckload carriers that have donated services, Move For Hunger is looking for anyone with refrigerated trailer capacity that can help, or, if a fleet has an older trailer with a reefer unit it would be willing to donate, that would be of interest as well.
“We want them to be electric-powered; they don’t have to be mobile, but it would be good if they are mobile,” Lowy said.
History behind Move For Hunger
Move for Hunger was founded in 2009 when Lowy was helping in his family’s New Jersey-based moving business.
“What bothered me and my family was the perfectly good nonperishable food in the pantries getting thrown out,” he told FreightWaves in 2020. He believed that by collecting the excess food and bringing it to a local food pantry, it could help those in need. “In the first month, we collected over 300 pounds. We brought that food to a food bank and that is when I really found out how [bad the problem was].”
The organization initially worked with household goods moving carriers and still relies on those firms for support, but in recent years the need for truckload capacity expanded as several larger consumer packaged goods companies began donating. Moving trailers don’t align with traditional loading docks.
From a carrier perspective, hauling the food could be a better alternative than running empty, Lowy said, and the costs associated with transporting Move For Hunger loads could be tax-deductible. The organization typically looks for carriers with excess capacity in areas and lanes where food is available, so the driver does not need to drive out of the way for the pickup and delivery.
As with the rest of the trucking industry, capacity is a pain point for Move For Hunger.
“I think the big issue right now is capacity,” Lowy said. “Nobody has capacity … . We have 1,000-plus moving and freight companies, and they’ve been wonderful, but we need [to expand the capacity] so we don’t put all the pressure on those 1,000 carriers.”
The tight capacity has made it difficult to find carriers for load pickups, even with early notice. The reality is simply that with shipping rates as high as they are right now, carriers don’t have excess capacity to donate, even for a cause as important as fighting hunger.
“Part of the reason why we have a large network is we can ask multiple partners for a pickup,” Lowy said. “But when we get a call from a Sodexho or Kraft or General Mills and they have aging inventory … we haven’t been able to get all their aging inventory because we haven’t been able to get the capacity even with a couple of weeks’ notice because fleets are all so busy.”
All capacity is welcome, but Lowy would like to see some refrigerated capacity become available to help retrieve even more food.
“If there are refrigerated trucking companies that want to donate services or trips … that would be really helpful,” Lowy said. “Our industry has a huge opportunity to really step up. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past 12 years, and I’m excited to expand our logistics networks that want to be part of the solution.”
Move For Hunger also offers programs for companies looking to host food drives, special events and even virtual opportunities.
Lowy said he would be happy to talk with any fleet interested in learning more, explain how the program works and determine if there is a potential match for a future load. Fleets can email him at [email protected]