It’s the end of the day at Bodhi Bowl, a vegan restaurant in downtown L.A., and the chef has eight pounds of leftover rice. By law, it can’t be served again the next day in the cafe. When the restaurant first opened in 2017, that extra rice would have been thrown out–owner Alison Cruddas couldn’t find a place to donate it. Now, however, she can use an app to contact the meal delivery company DoorDash whenever food is ready. A driver shows up and takes the food to the nearby shelter, Midnight Mission, to feed the homeless.
The restaurant was one of the first to pilot a new program, called Project DASH (which stands, of course, for DoorDash Acts for Sustainability and Hunger), run in partnership between DoorDash and the hunger relief organization Feeding America. Using MealConnect, a Feeding America app, restaurants can snap a photo of extra food, and the platform finds a nearby food bank, shelter, or other nonprofit that needs it. Then DoorDash uses its delivery algorithm to find the most efficient way to transport it.
For restaurants, it’s designed to make the process of donating food as frictionless as possible. “Once the restaurant posts the donation, their job is done,” says Justin Block, director of retail information services at Feeding America.
That’s critical because in the past, an attempt to donate food might have involved multiple calls and complicated coordination, taking time that restaurant workers didn’t have. If a restaurant didn’t have a delivery vehicle of its own, there might be no way to transport the food; even with a car or truck, employees might not have time to drive. At a short-staffed shelter or food bank, volunteers might also not have the time or available vehicles to pick up a donation, particularly a small one. An average restaurant might waste 100,000 pounds of food a year. Of the 50 billion pounds wasted en masse by restaurants across the U.S., only 1.4% is donated. Most edible food ends up in dumpsters.
“We know that we can help solve this really tricky, really complex logistical problem,” says Jen Rapp, VP of marketing at DoorDash, who helped launch the program after employee David Kastelman began exploring the idea at an internal hackathon.
The company’s algorithm, originally designed to deliver meals like pad thai or burritos to those with the disposable income to pay for deliveries, considers hundreds of factors to find the best routes that efficiently dispatch drivers across a city to handle multiple orders simultaneously. DoorDash Drive, a section of the business that can handle larger catering orders, is being adapted for the new program to make large deliveries from restaurants to food banks.
The efficiency of the system helps make donations more viable. “It removes the donation as quickly as possible from a restaurant’s kitchen so that it doesn’t take up space in their storage,” says Block. “Also, once the clock starts ticking on that donation, there’s a limited amount of time for its highest and best use…we’re maximizing the available shelf life of that donation so we can preserve as much of it as possible for the client to enjoy.”
DoorDash is currently donating driver time to cover the deliveries; during the month of January, DoorDash will also donate a meal through Feeding America for every order placed through the DoorDash website or app. In the future, drivers will choose to donate their time themselves. (Presumably, as with others in the gig economy, some drivers may want to work as much as possible, but a typical donated delivery may only take 10-15 minutes; in pilot tests, drivers told the company that they did want to donate their time.) The program is rolling out first in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.