This NYC Nonprofit Is Battling Food Insecurity With Restaurant Leftovers

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine partners with restaurants to help turn their leftovers into meals for those experiencing food insecurity.

The pandemic shined a spotlight on food insecurity, with young folks looking for ways to help curb this issue around the country.

In New York City, one local organization powered by Millennial and Gen Z volunteers is doing its part in a much larger capacity. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine partners with restaurants to deliver excess food from restaurants to people experiencing food insecurity.

“With restaurants and catering companies around the city, there'll be events and just food from that day that was made that's ready to eat — which they would normally throw out,” said Luke Petronella, a RLC employee. RLC has volunteers who come and pick up this food, he explains. 

“We sort of step in as the middleman and actually transport the food because that's the thing that's missing a lot of times,” said Lily Walker, a RLC lead volunteer rescuer.

Petronella feels that Millennials and Gen Zers want to be involved in a cause. “A lot of people think of ‘food waste’ as a term that's almost inevitable. We're trying to get rid of the term ‘food waste’ because it doesn't really exemplify the real problem. More people want to do something. I think they just need to know that the avenue is there and how easy it is to do that.

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine was founded by Robert Lee, a native New Yorker who battled food insecurity during his childhood in Queens. Since its launch in 2013, the nonprofit organization has grown and expanded to eight other regions and continues to impact those involved.

“There's people from every single different background you can imagine showing up to volunteer. It's really inspiring to see high school students and college students really show up for this,” Petronella said.

Petronella’s journey with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine began a few years ago in 2018 as a new college student.

“I was a freshman in college in a new city, and I was having a lot of trouble at school, you know, being a new student in a brand new place, and I really wanted to do something positive for the community and for myself,” Petronella said. “And so I looked up volunteer opportunities on Google. I found Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, and essentially, you know, one volunteer event kind of led me on this trajectory of really wanting to do this as a job.”

Like Petronella, Walker was also drawn to RLC as a young person in the city looking to do her part.

My grandparents have always been people of service, [who were] always…volunteering at food banks and through the church and that sort of thing. So it's been something I have been interested [in], to try and live up to that service aspect,” Walker said. “During the pandemic is when it really, I think, got a lot worse in New York and in other places, so that's when I took the step to start volunteering.”

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine hosts multiple volunteer events daily, and those interested can sign up for volunteer slots online on RLC’s website. As for restaurants looking to get involved with donations, there are a few FAQs that Petronella and his counterparts often have to clear up.

“It's a really common misconception among restaurants and food establishments that, you know, they'll think it's illegal that they can't donate their food. There are actually laws in place such as the Good Samaritan Act, which protects licensed food donors to actually donate this food,” Petronella said. “If we just donated one third of the food that's thrown out in the United States, it would be enough to statistically solve hunger in this country.”

For Walker, being able to directly impact people is meaningful. “This has completely become a part of my life,” she explains.  

Petronella explains that donating food to people who need it changes your perspective. “It doesn't really matter where you live, it doesn't matter what borough which you live in, there's always going to be something positive that you can do to give back.”