412 Food Rescue makes a big impact in Pittsburgh and beyond


Leah Lizarondo, CEO and co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, is a 2018 Pittsburgh Smart 50 honoree and Impact award winner.

In 2012, as a magazine food writer, Leah Lizarondo learned that 40 percent of our food goes to waste. A few years later, she wanted to return to her roots in business and technology. So, she co-founded 412 Food Rescue, a food recovery organization that uses volunteers to get food from donors to nonprofits.

It was an opportunity to combine technology and social good, and Lizarondo could draw on her experience as CEO of Dress for Success Pittsburgh.

“Every time I talk about food waste, there’s no real need to explain it to people. They are aware the food gets wasted every day, and it’s only the magnitude of it that we weren’t aware of,” she says.

Like wildfire

The idea took off, like people were waiting for an outlet, Lizarondo says. From March 2015 through November 2016, the nonprofit used Facebook as its primary means of contact, while building an app to coordinate and mobilize volunteers. Over time, 412 Food Rescue’s network grew to 500 food donors and more than 600 nonprofits.

Lizarondo says food recovery organizations aren’t new and there are even some with similar technology. But none have scaled like 412 Food Rescue.

“We are the only app that has had over 7,000 people download and register on the app. We are the only food recovery organization that has recovered over 4.5 million pounds of food in such a short time,” she says. “It’s the efficiency of our process that is extremely different.”

Replicate the model

But just as 412 Food Rescue became comfortable and efficient in Pittsburgh, Lizarondo and her team of 11 took on the next challenge — piloting programs in Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Francisco.

The way it coordinates volunteers and approaches donors and nonprofits remains the same, but there are differences.

“There’s adaptations in the way food recovery operates in each city that we’re learning as we go,” she says.

Philadelphia, chosen for its proximity, is larger and denser with different traffic patterns. You can’t always park a car in front a business to load it. Cleveland was a request of food donor Giant Eagle because the city is the company’s second largest market. However, the local nonprofit partner is new to food recovery, so there’s a steeper learning curve. In San Francisco, the nonprofit partner has been doing food recovery for 30 years; it just asked for help adapting 412 Food Rescue’s technology to its existing operations.