“Prior to COVID, we were rescuing approximately 35,000 pounds a month to 50,000 pounds a month of food."
“What happened in 2020 was the complete opposite of what we expected. We had expected to have significant growth for our workforce training programs and moderate growth for our food rescue program. You probably can imagine how this expectation got turned on its head.
Our workforce development program focuses on training formerly incarcerated individuals and getting them back into the workforce. More importantly, we help them successfully reintegrate into society. So we help them get a job and we help them keep the job. Coming into 2020, Uplift Solutions was training approximately 200 individuals a year and placing 200 individuals a year. Our goal was to do 350 in 2020. And then in March, we had to suspend in-person training.
We pivoted to move it online, but we quickly found that the systems that may work for most of us don’t necessarily work for this population. When we moved to Zoom, our population really didn't understand it and those who did know how to access it weren’t comfortable with it. We did realize that we could find them and meet them on Facebook. They understood that. And so we used the Facebook platform to transition people and educate them on how to move to the Zoom platform. And so over time, we worked very hard, and were able to train about 100, 125 individuals. About half of the number of individuals were trained in 2020.
Our other program is our Food Rescue program, where we use rideshare technology similar to Uber and Lyft to bring together volunteers to pick up food that normally gets thrown away at supermarkets, caterers, and restaurants. We take the food to non-traditional donation sites, so not necessarily food pantries, but more directly to housing authority sites where people congregate, to churches, to police stations.
Prior to COVID, we were rescuing approximately 35,000 pounds a month to 50,000 pounds a month of food. However, we come to March, we come to April, individuals are losing their jobs. They have less access to capital. People who were already a paycheck away from bankruptcy or homelessness even before this year were pushed over the edge. Bottom line is many more people needed food. From April to October, we increased our average to 200,000 pounds a month.
To achieve this, we had to rethink how we did business because supermarkets, prior to COVID, always had excess food. Well, in COVID, people with means were hoarding, which meant supermarkets couldn't donate as much anymore. We needed to bring in more supermarkets because the number of supermarkets we previously partnered with could not supply enough donations to help the individuals we support. We also partnered with USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which provides trucks of food to donation sites across the city.
So, you know, 2020 presented challenges that required us to truly rethink how we do business. And in both lines of business and everything that we did, we really had to go back and look at our constituencies, to understand where we needed to meet them, what they truly needed. And so that's how we've been able to pivot, by paying attention, getting feedback, making sure we have feedback loops in place, and being responsive to the environmental shifts.”
-- Atif, Uplift Solutions (November 2020).