Linda Hess creates relationships between businesses with leftover food and organizations feeding people who don't have enough to eat. She describes her work as food matchmaking.
"You have to make the connection work for [an agency’s] operating hours and when the food is available," says Hess. "One of the big problems is compatibility, kind of like a food dating service…If a market ends at 7:30 [p.m.] but [a local organization] operates from 9 a.m. to 1 [p.m.], that’s not a good match."
Much of her work is convincing businesses to donate their excess food.
"If it doesn’t sell, let it have another source," Hess says she tells potential donors. "Composting has stepped in a little too fast…There’s still hungry people out there, and perfectly edible food…and it should make the effort to feed people first."
Hess says it all began six years ago when she met a retired clergyman who delivered food to elderly people in Pasadena. One visit to the apartment of a woman who only had cat food in her cupboard left a lasting impression.
"It was in the middle of a parade route," she recalls. "It was just shocking."
Shortly after, she walked into a Trader Joe’s and talked about what she saw with some employees. A few days later, they filled her car with fresh fruits and vegetables. She had more food than she could give, so she says her next question was, "Who else needs this food?"
Hess has been asking that question ever since.
In 2012, she founded Urban Harvester, a nonprofit that connects food sources with community agencies. In 2014, the organization distributed 30,000 meals of unexpired food that would otherwise end up in landfills, says Hess.
"So much about it is creating that sense of community," she adds. "You may not know who’s around the corner that could use what you have and then there’s that ongoing relationship…I truly love doing this because it just brings smiles on everyone’s faces."