The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Food in a flash serves basic need in AZ

It wasn’t the day for food distribution at the after-school program in Phoenix, so a mother picking up her child was shocked to find that a fresh supply of healthy food was arriving, thanks to Flash Food Recovery.

Through tears, the woman said she only had a half-gallon of milk at home and hadn’t known what she was going to do, recalled Loni Lehnhardt, co-founder and director of operations for Flash Food Recovery. “That’s when we realized we were really doing something,” said Loni, who started the program with her husband Eric while they attended Arizona State University. “It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s a stopgap. It can make a difference.”

Flash Food Recovery originated from the university’s Engineering Projects in Community Service program, which has students from different disciplines address social issues using technology.

The Lehnhardts, members of University Lutheran Church, Tempe, Ariz., wanted to help those living with food insecurity. “We decided to take the technology used in flash mobs and apply that to food delivery situations,” Eric said. “That’s how we also got the name Flash Food Recovery.”

Flash mobs bring together disparate people to one place using group texting, usually to participate in an event. With Flash Food Recovery, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers use a mobile application to contact the program’s volunteers — the Flash Foodies — about perishable food they have. The foodies contact families about where and when the food will arrive, and then deliver it to participating centers.

While food banks and similar organizations are adept at collecting and distributing canned and dry goods, they aren’t as able to deal with food that spoils. Proper handling of perishables has been one of the biggest challenges, Eric said, which includes storage containers and knowing how long food can last before it’s no longer safe.

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