Beth Ostdiek Smith has quickly become an expert at turning excess into impact.
“I just felt compelled that I needed to do this, so I gave my employer a month’s notice and began putting this together,” she says. “We started with three food donors and three recipients.”
Four years later, the non-profit Beth founded, Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue, partners with about three dozen businesses (including grocery stores, event venues and restaurants) to “rescue” their leftover food and channel it, free of charge, to almost 30 nonprofit agencies. They, in turn, use the donated dairy products, produce, meat and packaged meals to feed their clients.
“We get to work with such great organizations that now can provide healthy food for the people they serve and shift more money to programs that address the systemic reason why people are there in the first place,” Beth says.
A 25-year veteran of the travel industry, Beth transitioned to the nonprofit arena in the early 2000s, first immersing herself in Jerry and Cookie Hoberman’s Winners Circle, an elementary achievement and incentive program that ultimately merged into Partnership 4 Kids (P4K).
“It was really impactful to get into our inner city. I grew up with not a lot, but I realized how much I had,” says Beth, who is one of 11 children. “I think that was the start of my seeing the need.”
After 10 years with Winners Circle/P4K, she “had an inkling” to do something different and found fresh inspiration in a program called Waste Not Arizona. Its mission resonated, given her experience in the inner city and the food waste she had witnessed throughout her career – in the travel industry at big events, at various conferences, even in school cafeterias. Plus, she knew the alarming statistics in her own backyard: one in five children goes to bed hungry every night in the Greater Omaha area.
“I started asking, ‘Is anyone doing anything on collecting perishable food here?’ No one was.”
So Beth stepped up. To date, Saving Grace has re-directed more than 1.7 million pounds of perishable food – bound for the landfill – to the plates of the less fortunate. The agency, which is funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant, utilizes two refrigerated trucks (with a third on the horizon), a veteran field and logistics director named Judy Rydberg, and a team of professional drivers who are also licensed food handlers.
“Our clients get food donations as fresh as we get them,” Beth explains. “Anything we pick up in the morning has been emptied from our trucks by the end of the day. We do not warehouse a thing.”
Any 501 c (3) – from pantries and shelters to after-school programs and senior centers – can apply to be a Saving Grace food recipient. Beth hopes to see less waste – and more impact and awareness-raising – in the future. “There is so much more out there that we haven’t even tapped into,” she says.
For now, she says it is rewarding to know the community “gets it” and wants to be involved.
“I love outside-the-box thinkers, and I’m open to any awareness ideas of how we can keep this growing, bring awareness to food waste and challenge and entice more food purveyors to donate their excess.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same. In partnership with the Omaha World-Herald.